Photographer Annie Bungeroth spoke to some people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Zambia who have overcome the stigma to take anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs, which help fight the virus, and are helping to change attitudes.
Asha, 45, Mombasa, Kenya
Kassim and I were childhood sweethearts. His family told him that he couldn’t marry me after my first husband died, but our love has many years, and eventually we married.
I was worried that HIV would be a barrier to our love, but Kassim proved otherwise to me, he went to classes on HIV and this built his confidence in understanding HIV.
I take two pills in the morning and two in the evening, Kasim puts on his glasses and watches over me as I take my ARVs. My children know that I have to take my ARVs every day. My son says: “Mum it’s 9am, you need to take your pills.”
I am not hiding my ARVs, I want the community to see that my life is fulfilled, that I am happy, that I am well. When Kassim married me, I saw how people’s attitudes changed and in my family I am accepted.
I am in a good situation, but I can do more, especially within the Muslim community where it is often forbidden to talk about HIV in the mosque. I want to change this.
Jean, 44, Ndola, Zambia
We felt afraid and scared [when we tested positive]. We had seen other people die. But my husband found the strength to tell my family, his family, and our children. We sat them down and we told them. They were supportive, they said: “It’s OK you have accepted your status.”
Telling our families helped us overcome our fear.
At my son’s school they have done a lot to reduce stigma, the teachers have done lessons about HIV and related illnesses. I have informed the teachers about my son’s status in case he misses school. I see other mothers and friends from my son’s school at the HIV clinic so I know that I am not alone.
I have a special pill box where I keep my ARVs – I find this the best way to carry them around with me.
At the beginning the children reminded me to take my pills because I was not used to taking them. Without their help, I would have forgotten all about it most days.
I take one pill at 6am and one pill at 6pm. I keep my pills in my bedroom in my special box.
Abeba, 28, Adigrat, Ethiopia
I take one pill in the morning and one pill in the evening. I make sure that I put my ARVs out of reach of my children. People’s attitudes to HIV are changing. My landlady knows that I am positive and she is good to me, helping me with the children, but things are not okay in my work place.
At the university where I work I haven’t told my colleagues of my status, if I did I know they would discriminate against me. I have one very good friend who won’t even eat with a person living with HIV.
Even though I love her and she is a good friend, I will not tell her my status. We were eating lunch one day when a child of a friend came and put his spoon in our food, my friend was not happy with that, saying he might be HIV-positive.
Education is the most important thing to change this kind of attitude.
David, 42, Mombasa, Kenya
I am a person living with HIV, I know how to relate to people’s fears and misunderstandings about HIV. I saw an advert on the door of the Catholic Church for the Stigma Reduction Initiative (SRI), and decided to apply for a job as an interviewer.
I met so many people who didn’t have courage – they would tell me to speak in a low voice inside their homes so that the neighbours couldn’t hear us talking about HIV.
That’s how I met Margaret, she had stopped taking her drugs because her neighbours had spotted her picking up her ARVs from the local clinic. Margaret was very afraid, and lacked courage, she had a job in a cafe and customers who saw her at the clinic stopped coming.
I encouraged Margaret to get back onto treatment, and with my support she did. Sometime later I asked her to marry me, and she said yes.
We take our ARVs together every day at 9am and 9pm, it is so good to see her beautiful smile when she takes her pills.
Mesfin, 46, Adigrat, Ethiopia
I believe I was the first person in Adigrat to take ARVs. When I was diagnosed as positive 11 years ago, I was very scared, during those times people living with HIV were ostracised from the community – described as “useless”.
I told my family priest about my HIV-positive status, he said: “God gave it to you so God will take it away sometime soon.”
At that time faith leaders knew nothing about HIV, they didn’t know how to support people living or affected by HIV.
The Stigma Reduction Initiative has really helped our faith leaders to understand HIV and support people living with HIV, I have seen a great change in attitude, now if you go to see a priest, they will support and encourage you to take your medicines or get tested, and they’re armed with good advice.
Febby, 57, Ndola, Zambia
My husband died in 2005, he was HIV-positive. He refused to go to the hospital, he refused to take medicine, and he refused to go to the church.
He was so afraid that people were pointing the finger at him, saying: “Look at that one, he has HIV.”
I am a Baptist, and my pastor helped me through those difficult times, there was understanding and acceptance in my church, this gave me courage.
I don’t hide my ARVs I just take them as if I was taking medicine for malaria. People ask me: “What it is?” I tell them: “These are ARVs and I am positive.”
I preach in the church, I help ladies when I am teaching in the church, I tell them how they can help their family members if they are HIV-positive.
I remember one woman was taking her medicines and not telling her husband, I counselled her, and helped her husband to understand. They say thank you whenever they see me.