A 31-year-old South African mother with HIV, Babalwa Mbono, held First Lady Laura Bush and an East Room audience OF 200 spellbound on Monday as she told how she had turned an abusive marriage into a happy one by confronting her husband about her diagnosis despite the shame that she felt. "He was shocked," she said. "I was so angry." She said he went straight to a clinic and discovered that he, too, had the virus. "He was ashamed of himself," she said. "He apologized. After that, we had a good life, me and him." Their baby was born HIV-negative.
Mbono is one of six South African women who have come to Washington for the week to return the visit the First Lady made to their Mothers to Mothers-to-Be program in Cape Town, South Africa, last July. That is part of a larger group, Mothers 2 Mothers, a Cape Town-based mentoring program for HIV-positive pregnant women and new mothers. The six women are site coordinators for the group, which provides support groups and counseling to help women disclose their status to loved ones and cope with the stigma they may feel. It also uses drugs, nutrition and education to try to prevent mothers from transmitting the virus to their children.
Laura Bush, whom Mbono described as the group's "grandmother," used the occasion to announce a new public-private pediatric AIDS treatment initiative that will channel more contributions from the United States, international organizations and pharmaceutical companies to help parents obtain and use simpler and safer medicines for children. According to the administration, the Presidentís Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has provided $238.7 million to South Africa in the past two years, and Bushís 2006 budget includes an additional $221.5 million. "The need is great, but the goodwill of the world is greater," the First Lady said. "May God bless mothers everywhere."
Babalwa Mbono, the mother who had told of confronting her husband, had one more surprise for the already entranced audience. She told about going along as a single mother the youngest of five children told her mother and siblings about having HIV. "The mother was like this," she said, clapping her hand to her mouth, "and the brothers looked down." She said that one of the brothers hugged his sister and said, "Iím also HIV-positive, but I didnít know how to tell mother and all of you guys." In the tears that followed, it turned out that all five siblings were HIV-positive, but had been too ashamed to tell each other. Mbono stayed for three hours to try to help them get on a healthy path. And in the East Room, she got a standing ovation.