Silver Lining in a Dark HIV Cloud
A GF NAHI SUCCESS STORY
In January 2021, a breeze of hope swept through selected communities in Edo state with the commencement of the National Aligned HIV/AIDS Initiative – a program implemented through the Family Health International (FHI 360) and funded by Global Fund. The program aims at reducing the incidence of new HIV infections, associated deaths, and sufferings among vulnerable groups. The One Stop Shop (OSS) and community-based Support Groups are integrated program strategies to promote linkage to care, treatment adherence, uptake of HIV services, as well as provision of counselling, psychosocial support and stigma reduction for the vulnerable group living with HIV.
Alexandra’s Story from Edo
“…being gay and HIV positive seems like a complicated case,” Alexandra said faintly with a few drops of tears as he opened up to the psychologist. After a deep breath to hold back the tears, Alexandra continued, “I am so angry and broken with the guilt of making wrong choices. Protection was not a priority because HIV was never something that I thought would happen to me… but I was wrong. I could have had a better life. Life has been a rollercoaster. I often have thoughts of jumping into a lagoon – to end it all.”
Alexandra Ella was diagnosed with HIV in February 2020. Since then, he has lived with self-blame and self-pity over his past, which he is not proud of. The social stigma, embarrassment, trauma, depending on a pill/lifetime treatment, getting his blood drawn frequently, and being prone to diseases was not a life he wanted as a fresh University graduate with no viable means of income. Alexandra lived in lone sobriety with a hovering dark cloud of suicidal thoughts that refused to fade off for over two years.
Through a referral by one of the community members, Alexandra was enrolled in one of the OSS facilities managed by FHI 360’s partner, the Excellence Community Education Welfare Scheme (ECEWS). Alexandra is one of the 1,214 clients receiving care and treatment for HIV at the OSS facility. He attends the monthly support group meetings facilitated by ECEWS – has gained knowledge about HIV, addressed his psychosocial needs and provided relevant information to reduce the stigma and discrimination. Alexandra was motivated and attained viral load suppression at the OSS facility.
Currently, Alexandra is employed by ECEWS as a case manager at the OSS, where he manages about 235 clients who are active on ART and doing well with a 95% viral suppression rate and 100% retention in care. He sees this as an opportunity to give back to his community members, especially persons living with HIV/AIDS.
“The Edo OSS team provided me with the health, nutritional, emotional, and psychological support I needed to thrive and pursue my dreams and goals. My joy knows no bounds when I received an undetected/untransmissible viral load result. I know that HIV cannot define me!”
“I’m so thankful to Global Fund, FHI 360 and ECEWS for giving me hope; without it, I wouldn’t have the strength”, Alexandra ended with his face all smiles.