Testing Positive

brookeinmoz:

My day begins between 6 and 6:30am, just as the women in my area begin sweeping their yards with tethered bundles of sticks and the booming bass of music begins blaring from houses near and far. Instead of the call of roosters I hear donkeys and the rumble of semi trucks as they make their way down the main ‘estrada’ that cuts through Changara. I boil water for coffee, sweep the house and veranda, take a bucket bath and am off to work around 7:50am. Towards the end of August I began my work at the hospital, and now make my way to the HIV/AIDS ward, or ATS (Acontecimiento e Testagem de Saúde), where we test and counsel patients. 

HIV/AIDS is a very real and ever growing issue here. Of the 1.6 million people living in Mozambique, about one-third are living with HIV/AIDS, more than 90,000 of them are children under the age of 15. Of this one-third living with HIV/AIDS, 5% (roughly 26,600 people) live in Tete Province. But the numbers, data and facts never prepared me for my first week in the hospital and before I knew it, in the midst of the life altering moments of complete strangers, I was having my own life altering moments. I arrived at the ATS ward and wandered into a room where our activists and counselors were preparing for the day in the field, putting together their backpacks of HIV tests, cotton swabs and paperwork. I said my greetings and I sat quietly in the corner waiting for someone to ask me to do something. Eventually everyone left and still unsure of what I was supposed to be doing, I continued to sit and wait. After about a half an hour our counselor appeared in the doorway with an older woman, frail and weathered looking. I quickly realized this was a patient and I asked if should leave, but she insists, “No, stay! Stay!”. The patient sits next to me, coughing and groaning. They’re speaking Nyungue, the local Bantu language, so I understand none of what’s being said but watch as our counselor puts on rubber gloves and points to the various posters on the wall that illustrate how HIV attacks the human body.

I’m going to watch this woman test for HIV.

I observe as her finger is pricked, her blood is tested, and two little red lines appear on the testing strip.

She’s positive.

I’ve never seen anyone tested for HIV, let alone test positive. This is such a life changing moment, all I want to do is leave the room. I don’t belong here and I can’t imagine that this woman appreciates having a strange white woman sitting next to her during such an intimate moment. The counselor slips out of the room, leaving us in the room together side-by-side. I don’t know where to look or if I should say something to console her, but I hear a sniffling, look over, and realize she’s weeping into her hands. I can feel my face getting hot and the pressure building in my chest as I choke back tears. Not before long our counselor arrives, fills out paperwork and sends the patient on her way. Before I can process what just happened or get my stuff together to get out of that room, she’s escorting in a mother and two little girls, each clutching a Hannah Montana purse and fried sweet bread. They’re each tested in just the same way. One of the little girls tests positive. I watch her swing her feet and munch innocently on her bread as her mom receives the news, knowing this little girls life just changed forever. She can’t be more than 11 years old. But they seem fine, laughing even. They leave and I can hear more laughter and music coming from the main entrance.

I ask our counselor if this work is hard for her, doesn’t she want to cry, too? She replies with a snort and a smile and says, “Nada”. I’m not sure if they’re laughing to cover up for grief and nervousness or if discovering you’re HIV+ is so common it’s not worth tears, but one thing is clear: my own perception of HIV/AIDS is very much different than theirs. On one hand this is extremely frustrating, how can they act so nonchalant about something so serious? On the other hand this is comforting, they know their status, can begin treatment and continue with their lives.

Our next patient to enter is a young woman with her two year old tied to her back. The baby just tested positive in pediatrics and the mother wants a test as well. The baby’s cooing and the mother adjusts her capulana as they wait for the test results. I watch as two little red lines appear on her test strip.

She’s tested positive, too.

It’s not even 1:00pm yet. 

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For 2011’s World AIDS Day, Peace Corps Burkina Faso’s Community Health and AIDS Taskforce (CHAT) designed a project that was funded by SPA grants integrating HIV/AIDS awareness murals and educational symposiums all across the country. Over 70 Peace Corps Volunteers participated reaching more than 50 communities and hundreds of target populations. I held several HIV/AIDS ‘ceremonies’ where different target populations of villagers pledged to spread awareness, practice safe sex and get tested by leaving their handprint on the wall after taking the pledge. This photo was taken at the clinic in my village (where the mural was painted) after the session that the local midwife and I ran with my 6th grade girls group.

- Peace Corps Health Volunteer Hayley Droppert

For 2011’s World AIDS Day, Peace Corps Burkina Faso’s Community Health and AIDS Taskforce (CHAT) designed a project that was funded by SPA grants integrating HIV/AIDS awareness murals and educational symposiums all across the country. Over 70 Peace Corps Volunteers participated reaching more than 50 communities and hundreds of target populations. I held several HIV/AIDS ‘ceremonies’ where different target populations of villagers pledged to spread awareness, practice safe sex and get tested by leaving their handprint on the wall after taking the pledge. This photo was taken at the clinic in my village (where the mural was painted) after the session that the local midwife and I ran with my 6th grade girls group.

- Peace Corps Health Volunteer Hayley Droppert

World AIDS Day global health Burkina Faso Africa health AIDS

Five Peace Corps Volunteers completed the first Tigray Trek in 2013 and educated nearly 530 community members in nine villages along the way. Their success and local community support led the Volunteers to organize this year’s trek, which has grown to include 15 additional runners and 12 additional volunteers to help lead educational sessions. 

Read more about it

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When Volunteers asked the community members how they think they had become infected with HIV/AIDS, they said the culture of jaboya – or the practice of trading sex for fish – which is prevalent throughout the communities surrounding the lake, could be the reason.

In Kenya, Peace Corps Volunteers have been working to end the practice of trading sex for fish, which has perpetuated the spread of HIV/AIDS among communities along Lake Victoria. Women who rely on the trade of fish to support their families are often pressured into prostitution with area fishermen to secure fresh fish.

Since 2011, three Peace Corps Volunteers have helped local women find financial independence. Working with Kenyan businesses and U.S. federal government partners, the Volunteers have acquired boats for women involved in the fish trade and supported the development of their own fishing business.

AIDS gender issues sex workers Kenya Africa


The Peace Corps is excited to be a partner of Saving Mothers, Giving Life. We are particularly proud of the contributions Peace Corps Volunteers have made at the community level to promote the importance of essential maternal health services, and we are thrilled to continue our collaboration to aggressively reduce maternal mortality. - Acting Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet

Saving Mothers’ first Annual Report, Making Pregnancy and Childbirth Safe in Uganda and Zambia, demonstrates rapid progress towards reducing maternal mortality ratios in eight pilot districts.
In Uganda districts, the maternal mortality ratio has declined by 30%, while in facilities in Zambia, the maternal mortality ratio has decreased by 35%. The Report showcases the activities that have helped contribute to these gains, including:
Increasing the number of women delivering in health facilities by 62% and 35% in Uganda and Zambia, respectively
Enhancing women’s access to Emergency Obstetric and Newborn Care, by hiring and training skilled birth attendants;
Strengthening transportation and communications networks among communities and facilities, in addition to strengthening the supply chain for life-saving medicines and commodities; and
Expanding testing and treatment for HIV/AIDS for women and their newborns.

Download the full report

The Peace Corps is excited to be a partner of Saving Mothers, Giving Life. We are particularly proud of the contributions Peace Corps Volunteers have made at the community level to promote the importance of essential maternal health services, and we are thrilled to continue our collaboration to aggressively reduce maternal mortality. - Acting Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet

Saving Mothers’ first Annual Report, Making Pregnancy and Childbirth Safe in Uganda and Zambia, demonstrates rapid progress towards reducing maternal mortality ratios in eight pilot districts.

In Uganda districts, the maternal mortality ratio has declined by 30%, while in facilities in Zambia, the maternal mortality ratio has decreased by 35%. The Report showcases the activities that have helped contribute to these gains, including:

  • Increasing the number of women delivering in health facilities by 62% and 35% in Uganda and Zambia, respectively
  • Enhancing women’s access to Emergency Obstetric and Newborn Care, by hiring and training skilled birth attendants;
  • Strengthening transportation and communications networks among communities and facilities, in addition to strengthening the supply chain for life-saving medicines and commodities; and
  • Expanding testing and treatment for HIV/AIDS for women and their newborns.

Download the full report

maternal health global health Africa women HIV AIDS maternal mortality Zambia Uganda USAID

No Sex for Fish - Redefining Gender Relationships in Lake Victoria, Kenya

Women living along the shores of Lake Victoria whose livelihood depends on trading fresh fish are exceptionally vulnerable to contracting HIV. In order to acquire fresh fish daily, the women are often pressured into having sex with the fishermen who supply the fish. It is not uncommon for the fishermen to maintain several such relationships simultaneously with women at different beaches where they land with their fish. As such, women fish traders are extremely susceptible to contracting HIV.

A couple of years ago, two Peace Corps Volunteers – Dominik Mucklow (an Education Volunteer, 2009-11) and Michael Geilhufe (a Community Economic Development Volunteer, 2010-12) – who lived near Lake Victoria decided to do something to help these women. With support from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), they assisted a group of women fish traders to acquire their own fishing boats. The women then employed men to go fishing using these boats. This simple advancement allowed the women to be free from sexual exploitation in order to secure their fish supply.

A third Volunteer, Samantha Slater (a Community Economic Development Volunteer, 2011-13) just completed her service. Samantha dedicated her work to helping the women with the business aspects of operating the boats and their fish trade. The women have since obtained additional loans to purchase new nets or replace damaged nets. They were also taught how to keep sound financial records and manage the business well enough to be able to pay back their loans in a timely way. Recently-arrived Volunteer Lori Armstrong will continue working on good business practices with the women. The work that these volunteers initiated has generated significant interest in development circles, and there is now a clear push to expand this “No Sex For Fish” initiative to other beaches along Lake Victoria. With additional support, this simple initiative promises to completely re-write the gender relationships that rule Lake Victoria’s fishing industry today.

(Source: blog.aids.gov)

AIDS gender sexual exploitation PEPFAR Africa Kenya Lake Victoria community development economic development fishing global health small business development women

Howard University alumna Christina Titus is a Peace Corps Community Economic Development Volunteer in Rwanda where she works alongside village-based community health workers to educate her community about malaria and HIV prevention, as well as address hygiene and nutrition. In an effort to engage youth in her community, Christina is also working on developing a youth center to empower them as they tackle health issues and bring about sustainable change.

Howard University alumna Christina Titus is a Peace Corps Community Economic Development Volunteer in Rwanda where she works alongside village-based community health workers to educate her community about malaria and HIV prevention, as well as address hygiene and nutrition. In an effort to engage youth in her community, Christina is also working on developing a youth center to empower them as they tackle health issues and bring about sustainable change.

(Source: passport.peacecorps.gov)

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Peace Corps Volunteers in Morocco recently hosted an HIV/AIDS awareness session for 60 girl students at a local high school in Tarmikt. Aside from info presentations and an awesome jeopardy game led by Peace Corps Volunteer Sairah Jahangir, the attendees also had a Skype session with two female HIV/AIDS patients from Washington, D.C. 
Moroccan counterpart Fatiha Haouat translated questions written by students who wanted to know things like what it’s like being HIV-positive, how the women found out their status, and what their lives are like with the disease. For all of the students it was the first time they had ever met an actual person living with HIV, nonetheless had the opportunity to talk frankly about what living with the disease is like. Perhaps it was one of the first times HIV-positive women have ever had a platform in Morocco to speak publicly about their status and be unashamed. Michelle and Charlene, the two women interviewed, did an amazing job sharing their life stories and helped to change many perspectives on the stigma of the disease, especially as it affects women. 
The resounding message was that HIV is like any other disease and that they lead very normal lives. They advocated inclusion and support of women living with HIV, and also helped promote a safe sex message among students. It was a moving interview that called into question ideas of victimhood in Morocco, and how blaming the victim is a kind of injustice: Charlene became HIV-positive when she was raped at the age of 8, an incident that also left her pregnant. Charlene is a practicing Sunni Muslim who is now a resident at N Street Village, the organization that facilitated the interview. The Volunteers who led the session said it was incredible to see the faces of these two women projected on the schoolroom wall, to hear their actual voices speaking truth to stigma in a country where HIV patients cannot speak out for fear of persecution.

Peace Corps Volunteers in Morocco recently hosted an HIV/AIDS awareness session for 60 girl students at a local high school in Tarmikt. Aside from info presentations and an awesome jeopardy game led by Peace Corps Volunteer Sairah Jahangir, the attendees also had a Skype session with two female HIV/AIDS patients from Washington, D.C. 

Moroccan counterpart Fatiha Haouat translated questions written by students who wanted to know things like what it’s like being HIV-positive, how the women found out their status, and what their lives are like with the disease. For all of the students it was the first time they had ever met an actual person living with HIV, nonetheless had the opportunity to talk frankly about what living with the disease is like. Perhaps it was one of the first times HIV-positive women have ever had a platform in Morocco to speak publicly about their status and be unashamed. Michelle and Charlene, the two women interviewed, did an amazing job sharing their life stories and helped to change many perspectives on the stigma of the disease, especially as it affects women. 

The resounding message was that HIV is like any other disease and that they lead very normal lives. They advocated inclusion and support of women living with HIV, and also helped promote a safe sex message among students. It was a moving interview that called into question ideas of victimhood in Morocco, and how blaming the victim is a kind of injustice: Charlene became HIV-positive when she was raped at the age of 8, an incident that also left her pregnant. Charlene is a practicing Sunni Muslim who is now a resident at N Street Village, the organization that facilitated the interview. The Volunteers who led the session said it was incredible to see the faces of these two women projected on the schoolroom wall, to hear their actual voices speaking truth to stigma in a country where HIV patients cannot speak out for fear of persecution.

Morocco youth girls gender HIV AIDS AIDS-free generation N Street Village trigger warning: rape stigma Skype Washington DC global health health victim blaming HIV-positive HIV+ students school education

Thanks to Peace Corps Environment Volunteer David Schlessinger for sharing this photo in our Digital Library!(Share photos from YOUR service: http://collection.peacecorps.gov/)David had this to say about his photo: "On World AIDS day the members of the local HIV group MASUPHA (Makete Supplies People Living with HIV/AIDS) marched in the villages of Tanzania. The group members and I were wearing Peace Corps 50th anniversary Khangas made by Peace Corps Tanzania. The group members sang powerful songs while marching through the villages. Later, speeches were given by MASUPHA group leaders, health care workers, various village government officials, and myself, a Tanzanian environment Peace Corps volunteer. The event helped raise awareness of the HIV problem, encourage testing, educate villagers, and reduce stigma for those living with HIV/AIDS."

Thanks to Peace Corps Environment Volunteer David Schlessinger for sharing this photo in our Digital Library!

(Share photos from YOUR service: http://collection.peacecorps.gov/)

David had this to say about his photo: 

"On World AIDS day the members of the local HIV group MASUPHA (Makete Supplies People Living with HIV/AIDS) marched in the villages of Tanzania. The group members and I were wearing Peace Corps 50th anniversary Khangas made by Peace Corps Tanzania. The group members sang powerful songs while marching through the villages. Later, speeches were given by MASUPHA group leaders, health care workers, various village government officials, and myself, a Tanzanian environment Peace Corps volunteer. The event helped raise awareness of the HIV problem, encourage testing, educate villagers, and reduce stigma for those living with HIV/AIDS."

Peace Corps Week PC Week Africa Tanzania HIV AIDS World AIDS Day traditional dress cultural exchange education health

One in Four
Children stand in front of a local store in a mountainous region of Swaziland—the country with the highest HIV rate in the world. One in every four people is infected with the virus, while everyone in this small country is affected. The children of Swaziland suffer the most, many losing their parents to the epidemic. But the children are also the future, empowered with knowledge and hope that the HIV epidemic can be conquered.
According to statistics, it is likely that at least one of the children in the photo has HIV.
Taken by Peace Corps Volunteer Ryan Fouss

One in Four

Children stand in front of a local store in a mountainous region of Swaziland—the country with the highest HIV rate in the world. One in every four people is infected with the virus, while everyone in this small country is affected. The children of Swaziland suffer the most, many losing their parents to the epidemic. But the children are also the future, empowered with knowledge and hope that the HIV epidemic can be conquered.

According to statistics, it is likely that at least one of the children in the photo has HIV.

Taken by Peace Corps Volunteer Ryan Fouss

World AIDS Day Swaziland Africa health youth HIV AIDS


Taken after a week long training on HIV/AIDS and behavior change communication, this photo features all participants and facilitators, both Peace Corps Volunteers and Filipino counterparts.
Those attending the training organized themselves in the shape of ribbon, with a red glow from the candles and sent a framed copy as a gift of thanks to Jake, the person living with AIDS who gave his testimonial during the training.

Peace Corps Youth Development Volunteer Blake Van Fleteren 

Taken after a week long training on HIV/AIDS and behavior change communication, this photo features all participants and facilitators, both Peace Corps Volunteers and Filipino counterparts.

Those attending the training organized themselves in the shape of ribbon, with a red glow from the candles and sent a framed copy as a gift of thanks to Jake, the person living with AIDS who gave his testimonial during the training.

Peace Corps Youth Development Volunteer Blake Van Fleteren 

Philippines Asia World AIDS Day HIV AIDS PLWH behavior change red ribbon


The LAWRA YOUNGSTERS ASSOCIATION is an organization open to boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 24. The objectives of the Association are to educate youth, improve the community, train youth to become future leaders, to sensitize the youth against diseases such as HIV/AIDS, to organize HIV/AIDS clubs in various schools and to reduce the stigma against HIV/AIDS.
Marching is a long-standing tradition in Ghana since 1957 when Ghana gained its independence. Schools and community service organizations organize their students and members to spiff up in bright new uniforms and freshly polished shoes for competitive marching. The Lawra Youngsters prepared a banner especially for this occasion with the motto “Save Lives - Be Responsible.” 

Peace Corps Agriculture Volunteer Janette Ambauen 

The LAWRA YOUNGSTERS ASSOCIATION is an organization open to boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 24. The objectives of the Association are to educate youth, improve the community, train youth to become future leaders, to sensitize the youth against diseases such as HIV/AIDS, to organize HIV/AIDS clubs in various schools and to reduce the stigma against HIV/AIDS.

Marching is a long-standing tradition in Ghana since 1957 when Ghana gained its independence. Schools and community service organizations organize their students and members to spiff up in bright new uniforms and freshly polished shoes for competitive marching. The Lawra Youngsters prepared a banner especially for this occasion with the motto “Save Lives - Be Responsible.” 

Peace Corps Agriculture Volunteer Janette Ambauen 

(Source: peacecorps.gov)

Ghana Africa education youth development HIV AIDS World AIDS Day