My revenge against HIV: a widow’s story
Hirut Alemayhu hid the fact that she was HIV-positive for years, even from her daughter. But today, she is a powerful force in the fight against HIV/AIDS in her local community, particularly focusing on pregnant women.
“My revenge against HIV is that I am using all my strength to stop new infections,” she says. “I use every opportunity to talk to people about HIV/AIDS but I am especially concerned about pregnant women. I seek them out and urge them to get tested. If they have HIV, I make sure they get the right treatment and advice so they don’t pass it onto their unborn children. At one point I had 360 women on my follow-up list and they gave birth to 359 HIV-free babies!”
Mrs Alemayhu’s dedicated work, which she does entirely as a volunteer, is contributing to UNAIDS’s ‘Getting to Zero’ strategy, which aims to get to ‘zero new infections, zero discrimination, zero AIDS-related death’ by 2015. Thank s to the combined efforts of governments, NGOs, churches and other organizations and, not least of all, of people like Mrs Alemayhu, good progress has been made over the past few years.
UNAIDS has reported a 35% drop in the number of newly infected children since 2009, and that 62% of pregnant women are now taking antiretroviral drugs. The report also shows other significant gains in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
So how did Mrs Alemayhu change from a frightened woman hiding a terrible secret to a passionate HIV/AIDS campaigner making a real difference in people’s lives? She says that getting involved in the Bible-based HIV/AIDS education program, the Good Samaritan Program, was a turning point for her.
“When my husband died of AIDS, people said that getting the virus was a punishment for sin,” she says. “So when I found out I had HIV, I felt ashamed and kept it a secret, even lying to my eight-year-old daughter about it.”
“I was weak and in pain for years but everything changed for me when I was invited to a Good Samaritan Program workshop. I learned that HIV/AIDS was an illness like any other, that it can be treated and that I could live a good, productive life. For the first time, I felt I could open and share my story. I found myself wanting to help others in my position to discover these truths.”
Mrs Alemayhu, who went on to become a trainer with the Good Samaritan Program, is one of many hundreds of thousands of people in sub-Saharan Africa who have been helped by the program. Run by the Bible Societies since 2004 in partnership with churches and other organizations, it uses Bible stories to tackle prejudice surrounding HIV/AIDS, providing support for those with the virus and challenging communities around them to do the same instead of rejecting them. It also provides life-saving health information about the virus.
“The Good Samaritan Program is currently running in more than 20 African countries,” says Kofi Agamah, head of the United Bible Societies HIV Service, which oversees the program. “Thanks to our close contacts with hundreds of churches, which are at the heart of community life in many parts of Africa, we are able to reach hundreds of thousands of people at grassroots level each year. The churches have embraced the program and Christians and many people of other faiths are learning to behave responsibly and to become Good Samaritans to those around them.
“We are greatly encouraged by UNAIDS’s latest report, which shows real progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS. But we agree with them that there is still much work to be done before we achieve the vision of ‘Getting to Zero’. We are committed to continuing our work and are thankful for all the many people, who, like Mrs Alemayhu in Ethiopia, are joining us in the fight against HIV/AIDS.”