Learning that you are HIV positive can be the most difficult experience one can go through in life. You may get scared, angry or even sad but that is all normal as it is a way of coping with something that can be life-changing.
Being HIV positive does not stop one from living a normal happy life, especially if one follows the treatment regimen prescribed by the doctor. This is a life experience of Janet*, a female sex worker operating in Nairobi.
“At one time I got very sick and could not leave the house. My neighbors used to talk behind my back saying that I will die until one brave woman approached me and told me to go to the hospital,” Reckons 40-year-old Janet*.
Dressed in a red sweater, a short black skirt and lip glossed lips, Janet explains that when she got to the hospital the doctor advised her to get an HIV test which she voluntarily agreed.
“Here is where the truth that I was running away from became a reality. The test confirmed that I was HIV positive and I was suffering from Herpes zoster,” she says with her eyes filled with tears.
At this point, she saw the whole world crumbling down, shock, fear, and gloom flooded her in rapid succession consequently burying herself into alcoholism.
She says her dreams and hopes were shattered with the diagnosis; “At one point I even contemplated to commit suicide as living was no longer important to me. I knew my children would be well taken care of by their grandmother.’’
Janet, a mother of two, had to cope with a period when HIV was considered a death sentence and stigmatization was the order of the day.
“During this period people had less knowledge on HIV/AIDS, therefore telling someone or a family member that you are HIV positive was not in the picture as they would treat you like a plague,” she explains.
Her only consolation was alcohol and would sometimes get raped by strangers and not pay much attention as she was drunk to even recognize that she was sexually assaulted.
Despite the diagnosis coming as a terrible, fearful shock to Janet, she decided to confide to a friend about her status who introduced her to Bar Hostess Empowerment Support Program(BHESP) PLHIV support group.
Today Janet’s self-assurance and resolve have come slowly over time and she has vowed not to let her HIV diagnosis stand in the way of living her life thanks to support group sessions she has been attending at BHESP.
“Through the support group, I have learned on the importance of drug adherence and maintaining a healthy diet to cope with the drugs. I have also learned how to practice safe sex to avoid re-infection and other sexually transmitted diseases,” explains Janet who is now a very active member of the PLHIV support group.
Today Janet is living a healthy life and has taken the responsibility of holding health talks with her peers within Kariobangi explaining the importance of accepting their condition and benefits of adherence.
“I also visit various hotspots to distribute condoms and talk to the young girls on the importance of practicing safe sex and even getting to know their status at an early stage,” she concludes.