Being Positive: UNDP and the Global Fund Help Restore Hope for People Living with HIV
“I thought that I would go as fast as my husband,” confesses Niloofar, 30, in the meeting room of the Kermanshah Positive Club. She discovered that she had HIV at a hospital in Tehran in 2004. She contracted it from her husband who spent eight years in jail. At the time, she had heard of no clinics in western Iran and had to travel to the capital, far from her home located on the outskirts of Kermanshah. “I had heard about HIV-AIDS from brochures in doctors’ offices and was always terrorized of getting it. When I found out I was HIV+, I didn’t want to live anymore. My daughter was one year old, and fortunately HIV negative - I didn’t know what kind of parents we would be for her,” she continues. Her husband died just two years after they both got diagnosed with HIV.
Dedicated drop-in centers (DICs), reference labs, positive clubs and voluntary counseling & testing sites supported by the Global Fund project form a closely knit network aimed at providing integrated care to HIV+ patients and their families. Niloofar was referred to the Kermanshah Positive Club2, as part of the psycho-social support services for people living with HIV.
“Stigma against HIV/AIDS remains strong in Iran because people lack education about the disease. Fortunately, stigma against care facilities like DICs and Positive Clubs has subsided though much work remains to be done to help include HIV+ patients in their communities,” says Dr. Khademi, Manager of the Communicable and non-communicable diseases department of Kermanshah University of Medical Sciences. “By creating TV advertisements, DICs, Positive
Clubs, hotlines and training sessions, the project has helped us reduce stigma enormously.”
For Niloofar, her first few years living with HIV were extremely difficult, especially psychologically. “When I told my parents, they rejected me and would not let me touch things in their house. The information I received through the Positive Club helped me explain to them how HIV is transmitted, but also what kind of support I needed from them. Now, they do not make me feel uncomfortable in their home anymore and frequently come to my house to visit.” The Global Fund-supported Positive Clubs help members manage their relationships to others and provide a space for open dialogue and exchange with people in similar situations.
“Here, we are empowered to teach each other about HIV’s modes of transmission and how to keep ourselves and our families healthy. I have been HIV+ for seven years and have kept my CD43 count over 600 thanks to the classes I received – I don’t yet have to take ARVs,” adds Niloofar. Positive Clubs also provide clothing and stationery for members’ children and help them find work. “I was trained in sewing here and now sell clothes from home. Mr. Amiri, the Club Director, will help me secure a loan for me to get a shop.” “I now help distribute informational materials about HIV to health care centers and other organization. I worry especially about youth and other women whose husbands have been in prison. I want to help make sure that none of them get HIV like I did.” Niloofar has been a very keen participant in the Club’s activities and has been invited to Tehran to take part in a workshop there with health-care workers and other people living with HIV. “Today, I see the future in a very positive light. I never think about death and sometimes even forget that I am sick. I know that I will overcome this disease- sometimes, I even believe that I will find its cure,” she smiles.