Combatting the Stigma of HIV

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At 53 years of age, Jane embodies the fervent spirit of a warrior. Not only has she conquered the harsh realities of her own HIV status, she has also managed to use her painful experience to educate and empower the women in her community. As a mother of four, she displays immense courage and resilience in the face of a debilitating disease like HIV/AIDS. Currently, she serves as one of the local VHT workers for her Parish.

Jane has been living with HIV for the past 20 years. In response to our question, she recalled the immense fear and denial she experienced when she was first diagnosed with HIV. Not only did she feel unbearably alone in her situation, she also felt like she had lost any purpose to her life. Her situation took a turn for the worse when her husband tested positive for HIV shortly after her own diagnosis. Jane’s husband refused to come to terms with his status and turned away ARV treatment which was imperative for his recovery. Soon after, he fell extremely ill and passed on. Sick and now widowed, Jane’s future looked bleak. With four children now dependent solely on her, Jane decided to take her situation in her own hands. Rather than grieving her situation, she decided to get more intimately involved with GWED-G and it’s Maternal and Newborn health program.

Jane mentions the stigma that her illness carries in her society, making it hard for people with her status to connect with resources and reach out for help. She describes her work in the community as increasingly difficult; there are too many men living positive but refusing to test at the health centers because illness often amounts to weakness. She further illustrates how Gender Based Violence (GBV) increases the risk of HIV infection in women as a result of its physiological and psychological implications. She explains how the threat of violence can have serious negative consequences as women fearing violence are less able to protect themselves from inflection, lacking the power to negotiate for safe sex. Moreover, HIV-positive women fail to seek treatment after infection because they fear violent behavior and abandonment by their families. This violence takes on many forms; whether it be discrimination, physical violence or rejection by one’s community. She also points out the various challenges women face in making decisions about their own reproductive health especially while accessing family planning services.

Although she agrees that addressing violence against women is a complex problem to tackle with deeply rooted social issues, Jane is optimistic about the long-term effectiveness of GWED-G’s programs. She provides the example of Mama Kits and how they have made her work with new mothers easier as it allows women to open up about their HIV status. Jane is full of hope for the future and is steadfast in her efforts to help her community by engaging in dialogue that she hopes will uncover and challenge negative social norms and allow her community to become a safe haven for those suffering with HIV/AIDS.