9 Months Now, I Can’t See My HIV!

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“You’re HIV Positive!” that’s how Musawo returned my HIV testing results, recalls Ms. Jennifer, a Ugandan HIV positive Sex Worker. I froze, the results sounded like a death sentence! “Oh God, no!”, I screamed out” she adds.  

The 24 years old Jennifer is a single mother with 1 child, a female Sex Worker living in Kasubi, a suburb in Kampala Uganda, where Lady Mermaid with support from AIDSfondet-Denmark is implementing a 3yrs project to reduce HIV incidents among Key Populations.  Jennifer shares her journey to viral load suppression.

In Jan 2020, as part of HIV project strategies to improve access to KP friendly health services, Lady Mermaid with mobilization support from a project-trained Peer Leader, Ms. Juliet Kayendeke organized a community HIV Testing Services outreach in Kasubi, Jennifer was among the mobilized Sex Workers.

“I remember, it was a Saturday evening, Musawo Juliet (peer leader) came to our hotspot, and informed us about Lady Mermaid’s planned health outreach, by then I had spent months sickly and not tested for almost a year, so I decided to get tested and receive some condoms, little did I know I would test HIV +ve that day.” said Jennifer.

Due to HIV stigma, people fear to disclose and accept their HIV status, this affect their decision to start treatment, Jennifer was not exemptional.

“The worst moment is when I received my HIV results, i was scared, and shocked, couldn’t believe leaving my child behind! Fear and thoughts almost killed me, I lost weight and hope, how would I tell my parents and friends? But truth is “I would have died if my peer had given up on me”, I fell sick for 3weeks.

“Jennifer was in self-denial for a month, I did routine visits to counsel, convincing her to agree go for ART enrolment but all in vain, the depression was terrible, her situation deteriorated on a daily. Later on she agreed to start treatment, although she was terribly ill and weak, said Ms. Juliet.

In January 2021, Ms. Juliet took Jennifer to ISS clinic-Mulago for enrollment on ART. Her viral load was a bit high. She required urgent treatment.

“I think Jennifer had unknowingly HIV positive for quite a long time, the time her first viral load was tested, it was more than 15000mL of HIV virus in her body, the best was to start her on Sceptrin, and ART” said Mr. Quraish, a health worker at ISS Clinic-Mulago.

When government declared the first lockdown in march 2020, I had spent 2 months on treatment with intensive counselling, routine checkup and lots of emotional support from my peer, this helped a lot.

Although the drugs weakened me at first, I gradually gained strength, accepted my status, and so I decided to take my drugs without failing. Not only one can’t tell am HIV +ve but also the medical machines cannot detect the virus in my blood, it has taken 9 months now, I can’t see my HIV, no illness, no any symptoms. I’m now very committed to taking my drugs to keep the virus domant,” proudly said Jennifer.

Jennifer achieved her viral load suppression in October 2020, and has maintained it to date, this has been made possible with support of the Lady Mermaid-AIDSfondet HIV project peer leader intervention, access to ART through project partnership with the health facility, adherence counselling and peer-peer support as key project strategies to achieve the 90 90 90 HIV targets by 2030.

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