NAIROBI, Kenya — Mary* knows what people say when they hear she’s HIV positive, but she doesn’t let the stigma stop her from getting the treatment she needs.
“I don’t mind what people say,” she said.
Before she started taking antiretroviral drugs, she had to wear wigs because her hair had fallen out. She had digestive issues that caused her to lose a significant amount of weight. Her symptoms kept her from working and supporting her four children after her husband died.
Mary barely survived.
Since she started treatment, which includes getting checkups every three months and taking ARVs, she has gotten better. Her hair grew back. She feels healthy, and she’s able to work again. Her children, who are all HIV-negative, have their mother back.
She started living again.
Her journey hasn’t been easy. Her family and friends shunned her because of her status. But she knows her health—and the well-being of her children—matter more than all of the negativity.
“You move on with life,” she said.
Mary receives care at the Mama Lucy Kibaki Referral Hospital in Nairobi. There, she meets with nurse Elizabeth W. Michire, who checks her blood pressure and other vital information. Her checkups take place in a new structure that was built especially for HIV patients to ensure they are able to receive the best possible care.
The structure, one of several, was made possible through the USAID/Kenya and East Africa Afya Jijini Program. Kenyan and U.S. officials launched Afya Jijini, which means “health in the city,” in 2016 to improve and increase access to and use of quality HIV/AIDS, family planning and reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health services. The program works with the Nairobi City County Health Management Team, local organizations and communities to strengthen the county health system and improve the quality and accessibility of health services, particularly in the city’s informal settlements.
Before Afya Jijini, the HIV clinic was in a stairwell, the only available location in the hospital, said Dr. Josephine W. Nguri, the deputy superintendent of clinical services at Mama Lucy. Both TB and HIV patients were seen in the same space, which put patients at risk. HIV patients were then moved to a tent in the parking lot before the new structures were built. TB patients are still being seen in the stairwell while plans are being made to add more space to the hospital.
Since 2011, Mama Lucy has seen 1,600 HIV clients for ongoing care and treatment. For clients, such as Mary, the care is the difference between barely surviving and truly living.
“I’m happy,” she said.
*Mary is not the patient’s real name. It was changed to protect her confidentiality, even though she wanted her story to be told.
The USAID/Kenya and East Africa Afya Jijini Program is funded by USAID Global Health and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) programs. The implementing consortium, led by IMA World Health, includes the Christian Health Association of Kenya, the National Organization of Peer Educators and the Mission for Essential Drugs and Supplies. The content of this story does not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.