Alexandra standing in front of foliage

© Sarah Oughton/BRC

When Alexandra Lee, 24, was diagnosed with HIV she began a journey which led to new love and new purpose in her life. This is her story:

I was 18 and three months pregnant when I was diagnosed with HIV. I got it from my then boyfriend who I’d been with since I was 15 and we decided to get married.

I knew I had to give birth to this child because I may not have another chance and I just had to pull myself together. The doctors were trying to persuade me to terminate but I found out the majority of women with HIV give birth to healthy children as there are ways to protect the child. I told the doctors I was going to have this child.

Although our son was born healthy, things didn’t work with my husband and one and a half years later we got divorced. My baby was eight months old and I became really depressed. I didn’t want to get up or eat anything. One day was like one week. I tried to make as much money as possible as I thought I had to leave something behind for my child so he could be educated when I died.

HIV and hope

A few years ago, when my son was four years old, I went to the AIDS centre in Karaganda and started meeting other women in similar situations. I also joined the Kazakhstan Red Crescent peer support group. This was like having air to breathe – I couldn’t live without it.

Then I went to one of the Red Crescent summer camps where I met my husband who was one of the organisers – he doesn’t have HIV. When he looked at me there was an immediate spark and two years later we were married. We’re now planning to have another child.

The Red Crescent’s TB and HIV programme helps people meet potential partners, which is important because it can be difficult to meet someone and reveal your status – here people don’t need to worry about that.

Red Crescent volunteer

When I moved to Almaty one year ago I became a volunteer with the Red Crescent as I’d received a lot of counselling and training, and realised I had learnt so much I could now help other people.

The TB and HIV programme is so valuable, as many people are desperate. For example, we support a lot of ex-prisoners with TB and HIV, as well as people coming out of hospital. It takes time to get rehabilitated and find work – the Red Crescent help comes just when people need it most. They come here and get a whole set of services for free – including food packages for those who don’t have enough to feed their children, counselling and even legal advice.

Others see that I am doing well and get inspired. I have an open face, I’m not hiding my status and I want to fight for the rights of people with HIV. I know the stigma can be intimidating for people, but I believe there’s no sense in hiding our status. I think it’s important to be straight forward so we can join our efforts and combat the disease.

Read more about the Kazkhstan Red Crescent’s TB and HIV programme, which is supported by the British Red Cross.