Maurine Murenga discovered she was HIV-positive in 2002, when those living with the virus in her home country of Kenya had little access to treatment and preventative care. When she realized she was pregnant shortly after her diagnosis, she was unable to afford medication—as a result, her son, Earl Fortune, was born HIV-positive.
Thanks to subsidies made possible by U.S. and global support, Maurine and Earl were able to begin treatment in 2004. In spite of this progress, Maurine noticed the stark inequalities many girls and young women experience in their efforts to access care. During the outbreak of violence following Kenya’s 2007 Presidential election, Maurine saw a young mother living with HIV speak out on television. Unable to access her drugs due to the crisis, the woman lamented the terrible choice she was faced with as her viral load rebounded: she either had to put her child at risk of infection through her breastmilk, or let him go hungry.
Filled with outrage and empathy, Maurine ignored public safety warnings to remain inside. She retrieved three different kinds of drugs from her own clinic and set out to track down the woman she had seen on TV. When she eventually located her, several other women came forward and requested a share of the medication; they, too, were unable to access treatment and were too afraid of stigma and discrimination to come forward publicly. Determined to support this vulnerable group after the crisis subsided, Maurine founded Lean on Me Foundation in 2008 with the purpose of supporting adolescent girls’ and young women’s access and adherence to HIV treatment services.
This advocacy made all the difference during Maurine’s second pregnancy in 2013. By accessing PMTCT services and the support network she developed through Lean On Me, Maurine’s second son, Emmanuel, was born HIV-negative.
Since beginning her work with EGPAF, Maurine has felt a special connection with its founder, Elizabeth Glaser.
“When I thought about how Elizabeth worked so hard in creating this Foundation so that Jake would survive,” Maurine said, “I also thought about how I founded Lean on Me so that Earl would have a place in case I wasn’t alive anymore.”
As an EGPAF Ambassador, Maurine will continue to share her story and life experience to ensure that those living with HIV, especially girls and women, are given the access to services and equal treatment they need to live long and healthy lives. In her work supporting EGPAF, she has spoken with the media about the life changing impact of U.S. foreign aid and met with representatives on Capitol Hill. In addition to her EGPAF Ambassadorship and her role as the Executive Director of Lean on Me, Maurine sits on the board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.