January 2017

An Expert Patient

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Immaculate Akinyi Onditi, an HIV-positive mother of three HIV-free children refuses to be stigmatized by the disease — choosing instead to inspire others.

“I tell people openly about my status, because when I do, they have nothing to talk about,” she says. “It’s only when I keep it secret that they find something to talk and gossip about.”

Immaculate was not as self-assured when she first learned about her HIV status in 2010.

“Only my mother in-law and I knew about my status. I would cry most of the day at home. I hid my drugs at my mother in law’s place and took them secretly,” Immaculate says.

When she joined a support group for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers at the Kandiege District Hospital in Kenya, which is supported by the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) through the Foundation’s Pamoja Project (funded by the U.S President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)), she not only received counseling and classes, but garnered courage and hope as well.

“I learned that if I took my drugs without fail, I would have enough guard to protect me from sicknesses and could protect my baby from being infected with HIV.”

It was only after one of her children tested HIV-negative that she was inspired to disclose to her husband.

Thankfully Immaculate’s husband cooperated with healthcare workers and enrolled himself in HIV treatment.  Now they receive treatment together and remind each other to take their medicine.

As a peer educator, Immaculate not only focuses on herself, but also helps newly diagnosed people deal with the psychological shock and social issues, so that they can live healthy, productive lives.

To ensure access to, and retention on treatment, the Pamoja Project employed 318 peer educators to walk alongside newly diagnosed clients at EGPAF-supported sites. Peer educators help to combat stigma by facilitating psychosocial support networks for people  living with HIV within their facility’s community catchment area, which allow those living with the disease to share experiences and support each other to overcome challenges on a regular basis.

In late 2016, EGPAF, together with the CDC, the Kenya Ministry of Health, Homa Bay county government, and other partners, commemorated the end of the Pamoja Project and celebrated its achievements in improving and expanding HIV services, while officially launching a new, five-year project, Timiza90, which aims to build on Pamoja’s progress.