When I meet people I say that being HIV positive is not a death sentence

Published: 29 November 2013 20:50 CET

Every Thursday morning at 9am, in central Malawi the Kataila Aids Support Group meets in a small mud brick church. Founded in 2005 by four people living with HIV, through local awareness it has grown to 52 members.

With support from the Malawi Red Cross Society the group has ventured into income generation activities, gardening and micro enterprise projects. The members of the group engage in therapy sessions and support each other by sharing the challenges they face living with HIV and AIDS.

One of the members is Jessie, and this is her story, as told to IFRC communications officer, Hanna Butler.

After I gave birth to my son in 2000, I started hearing about the HIV virus and its symptoms. My health was failing and I noticed I had a rash, so I began harbouring fears about the having HIV.

It took a long time for me to finally get tested, because I was scared. In 2007 I finally got the courage to get tested, I was also worried about the health of my son.

We both tested positive. When I found out I was sad; I thought I was going to die and that my child will die too. My husband left me when he found out I had HIV – he was in denial about the virus – so I had five children to look after on my own.

Staff at the hospital suggested that I join a peer support group. When I joined the group I felt like I let a lot off my chest. Peer support that the group gave me freed my mind. With support of the group I started antiretroviral treatment and so did my son, and now we both enjoy a healthy life.

But it is difficult to be on medication. The side effects can be bad, it makes you feel drowsy, you are not very productive at work and it even makes you feel drunk.

It was hard for me to stay on treatment, as I did not have enough money to eat well. Taking the medication on an empty stomach makes you very sick. But I learnt at the support group about how to cook and keep a good diet while taking medication. I learnt about nutritious wild fruits and green vegetables and to keep the husks on maize meal for further nutrition.

Since our group meets regularly, we emphasize and support each other to take the medication. So together as a group and as neighbours we remind each other to stay on treatment. The fact that these drugs are keeping us alive and healthy is reason enough to keep taking them.

As a group we are raising awareness and providing outreach services in the community. We travel around villages and perform dramas and give talks to encourage people to get tested and to seek treatment.

People in the community know that I am HIV positive and often people come to me for advice about testing or treatment.

When I meet people I say that being HIV positive is not a death sentence, I tell them my life story, look at me I am proof of that! Put aside your fears I tell them, I am here to support you, whatever the results of your test and throughout your treatment.

I know we have contributed to more people getting tested and more people staying on treatment.

If I look at where I was when I found out I was HIV positive and look at now, it is a different reality and I am a different person. I can’t predict my death, but I know that I will grow into old age and continue to watch my children attend school. I don’t have problems now, my life is good.

Learn more about what Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers do to improve access to health, promote community empowerment and ultimately contribute towards achieving universal health coverage.