Human rights lawyer, social advocate, world traveller and CEO, Sonia Di Mezza, has added co-author to her long list of credentials; with a pen name of Angela Aquila, Sonia has co-written Lovesick with her friend Manu Bhat.
Lovesick is Manu’s memoir of the challenge being a woman who lives with HIV in India.
Like many Indian women, Manu was married by arrangement; matched with her husband via a newspaper ad placed by her parents.
Manu’s life changed when she became pregnant with her first baby and medical tests revealed she was HIV positive.
She later discovered her husband had “knowingly infected her” with the virus.
According to Avert, a not-for-profit HIV and sexual health organisation, in 2017 India had the third largest HIV epidemic in the world.
With around two million people infected with the virus, that number is concentrated among key affected populations including sex workers and men who have sex with men.
Despite the HIV antiretroviral treatment being free in India, the uptake remains low (56%) as many people face difficulty in accessing clinics.
Manu’s devastation turned to depression, miscarriage, and eventually divorce.
Then Manu met Sonia, who was living and working in India with Nobel Peace Prize winner, Kailash Satyarthi, at non-government organisation, Bachpan Bachao Andolan, saving children from exploitation.
The two became friends and Manu told Sonia she believed her life was over.
As their friendship developed, Sonia convinced Manu to write her memoir – and in the end, they wrote it together.
Sonia said Australian society has come a long way in understanding HIV and countering its stigma since the 1980s, but in countries with developing economies like India, the reality is very different.
Based on a 2018 Thompson Reuters Foundation poll of 548 experts in healthcare, discrimination, cultural traditions, sexual and non-sexual violence, and human trafficking, India was ranked as the most dangerous place in the world for women.
While writing Lovesick, the pair discovered a clinic in Calcutta specifically for HIV-positive patients.
Realising the cultural pressure to marry was contributing the HIV infection rates, a doctor in the Calcutta clinic set up a matrimonial agency for people who are HIV positive, which helped Manu get her happy ending.
Sonia said Manu has been married for nine years now.
“It’s a very loving marriage,” Sonia said.
“The book is about people with HIV. They have rights like everyone else to have a family and to live the lives of their dreams and to have goals.”
Lovesick is being launched on World Aids Day 2020, Tuesday 1 December, in conjunction with Meridian community health organisation – formerly AIDS Action Council.