By Emmanuel Okyne
With an approximate 60,000 people living with HIV in Sierra Leone in 2013, according to the Demography Health Survey conducted in 2013, most people with HIV status believe more of their colleagues have died because of lack of medical care.
With the outbreak of the Ebola virus in the country an accounted number of 50 people living with the virus died in 2014 from a total of 250 in the Tombo community, in Western Rural.
Women living with HIV/AIDS in the Tombo community disclosed in an exclusive interview that they are being stigmatized and marginalized by the community.
Patient A (name withheld) age 56,who said she contracted the virus through blood transfusion in the community hospital has been living with the virus for the past ten years.
She said the day she knew her health status her first thought was to commit suicide but that with the intervention of ‘Society for Women and Aids in Africa’ she had a change of life.
“My family abandoned me when they knew I am HIV positive,” she said in tears, adding that people in the community were pointing fingers at her anywhere she goes in the community.
“I was sellinggariin the community but the people refused to buy my food because of the fear of contracting the virus,” she said.
Another patientrevealed that her ‘own mother’ was spreading the news in the community that she was carrying the virus.
“Even my 11 years old son isn’t spared by the stigma I suffered because his colleagues in school laugh at him,” she said.
She disclosed that her son has even asked her to look out for another school, adding that she used to sell cakes for her living in the community, but has since stopped, because people in the community don’t buy.
“Most positive patients are evicted by their landlords when news get around that they are living with the virus,” she disclosed, adding that her husband hasalso abandoned her.
“I wonder whether he still thinks of the advice from the doctors for us not have affair with other people,” she said.
She said when the community knew that she was given a position by SWAA to mobilize women living with the virus in the community they labeled her with all sorts of negative namesthat they were spreading the virus in the community.
The coordinator for‘Love one Another Campaign Vocational Centre’ in the Tombo Community, Oladipo Johnson,said his job in the community is to monitor the status of patients by taking their pressure and also counseling them.
He however disclosed that the Centre is faced with challenges raging from the non-availabilityof tools for women in the centre to learn skills training for their livelihood.
“If their minds are occupied they could get off the trauma they are going through,” he said.
The coordinatorfor the ‘Society for Women and Aids in Africa Sierra Leone Chapter’, Marie Benjamin, said SWAA was formed in 1988 to respond to the needs of women for education programs as a respond to the Aids pandemic.
She said the government should do more in the area of HIV\AIDS funding, stressing that if such is done it would reverse the gains alreadymade over the couple of years.
Madam Benjamin disclosed that one of their major partners, Global Fund, will only be assisting with the provision of HIV drugs in the near future and would affect the organization which is managing to survive.
She Commended the World Food Program for the food supplybutlamented that the quota is small according to their data of clients visiting the Centre.
She appealed to other organizations to step in and support them in the fight against the virus.
The Western Area Coordinator for Network of HIV Positives in Sierra Leone (NEPTHIS), Wilhelmina Sawyer, said they have been providing Anti Retoral Therapy (ART) for victims living with the virus.
Women living with the virus were marginalized and stigmatized in the Tombo Community.
The Communication Coordinator at National Aids Secretariat,AbubakarKargbo,said there is a gradual increase in HIV\AIDS attendance visiting treatment centres across the country unlike during the Ebola crises in 2014when patients were afraid to visit the hospital for fear of contracting the virus.
He said during the locked down of quarantine districts NAS provided medical supplies for three months for patients living with the virus so that they could not be deprived of their rights to health care facilities.