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Char Adams
December 01, 2017 12:02 PM

A Uganda family was turned upside down when they learned their mother’s decades-long secret.

In 2013, Jenipher Mukite, along with her two siblings and their father, learned that her mother had been living with HIV since before they were born, and hadn’t been taking treatment for years, CNN reports.

The family finally got the courage to ask the life-altering question when their mother, bedridden and unable to move or eat, refused medical treatment. The news swept across the Eastern Ugandan village, and the family found themselves the subject of much gossip, Mukite told the site.

Mukite’s said her father kicked their mother out of the home but, with no place to go, the woman returned and died a few weeks later, according to CNN. Soon the rest of the family learned they were infected, and life as Mukite knew it began to fall apart.

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Then 18 years old, Mukite was sent to live with her mother-in-law and faced bullying and unfair treatment as school as a result of her family’s situation. She later returned home to find her father had remarried, and in 2016, he pressured her to get married too, CNN reports.

“This is so common, especially with adolescent girls living with HIV,” Allen Kyendikuwa, with the Uganda Youth Coalition on Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health and HIV, told CNN. “Many girls are told to drop out of school and go get married.”

HIV and AIDS have long been an epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa and situations like Mukite’s are not uncommon, as 75 percent of HIV infections among 10- to 24-year-olds in the region are in women and girls. Marriage and having children often serves to reduce the sigma surrounding the virus.

Still, although Mukite said she would like to get married and have a child one day, but first wants to focus on her education, CNN reports.

Mukite sought the help of a social worker and now lives with a pastor, according to the site. She studies hairdressing at the New Life Skills Center in Bugiri and has been on treatment since learning of her condition.

The news come as leaders and activists everywhere highlight the fight against the condition on World AIDS Day — observed every year on Dec. 1. On Friday, the United Nations released a video chronicling the decades-long fight, noting that many suffering from HIV and AIDS do not have adequate care.

“AIDS-related deaths have almost halved since 2005 but 17 [million] people living with HIV still don’t have access to treatment,” UN officials tweeted.

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