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Helping HIV-positive sisters to survive COVID-19

June 7, 2020

Written by Oluatoyin Alleyne

“I am kind of scared and everybody like me, you know they scared. This is something new and, you know, we already have a compromised immune system so we all just frighten,” said a mother who has been living with HIV for a number of years.

“I want to talk about it and let people out there understand that this thing is real. People like me with HIV, we have to take extra care, we cannot take chances.”

Since being diagnosed with HIV and placed on treatment, she has been supporting mainly HIV-positive women as she believes they feel better speaking with someone who has walked their path or is walking their path.

“You see when the corona come to Guyana, I started cleaning, trying to get rid of the old stuff. I was scared to go out and the one good thing, I had my daughter, and if I want anything she would go and get it,” she said.

“And then the calls start coming, persons start calling and asking for aid and they were also afraid to go out and get their treatment. It was really frightening, and you know I had to direct them on how to go and get treatment, calling the health centres to help them.

“And then, you know, we see the news with them talking about HIV persons and how our immune systems was compromised and advising people who not on treatment to get on treatment because their immune system could weaken, that was frightening.

“So now I had to call up people and tell them to keep up their immune systems, tell them to drink a lot of vitamins and take their medication and not to miss taking it. It was then some of them started finding out about hampers and I decided to call NAPS [National AIDS Programme Secretariat] and I was told that you had to reach certain criteria to get a hamper.

“So if you not sick and you not working, you cannot get the hamper and I felt really bad because here we telling people stay home be safe, some of them would get a one day work here and there but now they frighten to go out. They frighten to go out, but they can’t get a hamper. We not asking for every month but at least one time. They felt really bad when I told them about the criteria, and I had to turn to my church and ask for help and some of them would get hampers.

“People always talking about criteria. It is like you have to be really sick to get a hamper. You have to carry yourself really down. Your immune system have to very low for you to get a hamper.

“They are people who not working and can’t support their children. They have HIV. Why can’t they get a hamper?” she questioned.

“I think also they need to train people with HIV about the corona so that we can really talk to others, because persons living with HIV will more listen to other positive persons and they need to get the information.

“Some of them call and even come looking for me because they want information and help. They would not want to talk to the people at the treatment centres they would prefer to talk to someone who understand what they are going through. It is a really frightening situation, especially for people who are working. And even those who are not working, they are afraid to go out,” the woman said.

“You know I am very brave but even I don’t want to go out. I don’t go out nowhere. Them children frighten for me more than I afraid [for] myself.

“It is sad to know that people living with HIV and they are in need and they have to go out there and compromise themselves and could get themselves and their children sick. It is a sad thing for single parents, especially. I stand a chance because I have me children and they would make sure I eat and that I alright.

“Depression is now getting a lot them. Even me I does feel so bored because before I am always out and about, and it can get difficult for me. It is something really sad. They don’t have nobody to talk to. The group we had ain’t really functioning right now. Because of the COVID, we can’t even meet. But some would call.

“A lady call me from the East Coast. Somebody give she my name for help. I submit she name, and I hope to get help from my church. She have six grandchildren and they mother die from HIV and she does have to work and mind them. She must be try all over and somebody must be just give her the number and she call. Is a good thing I does say give them me number and if I could help I would help.

“Persons are saying they want them doing a shutdown of the country but what will happen to persons who are working? They are not putting anything in place. I am scared but I don’t think we could afford a lockdown. Too much poor people will suffer,” she continued.

In a direct appeal to HIV-positive persons, the woman urged that they stay on treatment.

“If you on treatment, stay on the treatment, adhere to it. Keep your surroundings sanitized, keep it clean. And if you not on medication contact your nearest health centre. It is serious, don’t make joke, you already living with a compromised immune system and it is important that you adhere to the Ministry of Health guidelines,” she warned.

If there are HIV positive sisters out there who need support, please call 693-2817 and the positive sister who answers will do her best to assist or at least direct you where you can get some assistance.

Only recently a call was made for persons living with HIV in Guyana to take extra measures to protect themselves from contracting COVID-19.

NAPS Director Dr Rhonda Moore pointed out that persons living with HIV are at an increased risk of developing the most severe form of the virus or even dying if they are to contract the virus. She noted that this may be the case for persons who are not on treatment or those who are not virally suppressed.

Moore had explained that the HIV attacks the immune system, making it difficult for those living with it to fight off any infection which includes COVID-19 and, therefore, contracting the virus may lead to persons needing hospital care and in most cases intensive care. She also mentioned that persons who are virally suppressed are those persons who have been using their treatment and as a result the virus is under control, which means that their immune systems can fight other infections.

Dr Moore urged persons living with HIV to stay at home unless it is absolutely necessary for them to venture outside, to practice COVID-19 precautionary measures put in place by the health authorities and to ensure they eat as healthy as possible. She had also informed that the NAPS food bank is prepared to work with the treatment facilities to provide those who need additional support with hampers.

Persons who are not using any treatment for HIV are urged to call NAPS hotline (Guyana) at 227-8683 extension 215 to be directed to treatment sites in their areas.

Photo by NEOSiAM 2020