HIV diagnosis transforms a patient into an ART advocate
While undergoing drug detox in 2009, Marat* learned that he was HIV positive.
When told his test result, Marat announced, “thank god.” Pre and post-test counselling wasn’t prevalent in Kyrgyzstan at that time so Marat assumed that “HIV positive” meant good news. Once he understood the significance, he left the centre in tears. He was 38 years old, married and had a daughter.
- The UNDP Global Fund HIV grant focuses on preventing HIV by promoting human rights and gender equality, strengthening the governance component, and mainstreaming AIDS issues into national policies.
- As a result of increased access to prevention and treatment services through organizations such as Prosvet, 1,196 adults and children received ART in May 2014, compared with 778 in May 2013.
- From January to March 2014, Prosvet had ART commitment from 129 PLHIV.
Initial shock and distrust
After the initial shock of being diagnosed as HIV positive subsided, Marat vowed that he would never return to using heroin again. Six months later he began volunteering at Mutanazzif, an NGO working in the HIV sector since 1997, but he was opposed to beginning antiretroviral therapy (ART), the treatment that suppresses HIV and stops the progression of the disease.
“I felt physically fine,” said Marat. “I distrusted ART because I understood it to be similar to chemotherapy and that it had side effects. Also, I didn’t want to take medication twice daily for the rest of my life.”
But then he began losing weight. Acute acne appeared on his face and painful shingles developed on his back. Marat realized that ignoring the disease wasn’t going to make it go away.
Becoming a believer
A coordinator at Mutanazzif explained the advantages of antiretroviral drugs and emphasized the minimal side effects to Marat. She showed him photos of famous people who were receiving ART and leading normal lives.
Having a supportive person who understood HIV motivated Marat to begin ART in 2011. After six months his shingles disappeared, his CD4 count increased, and he began to gain weight. In addition, his emotional wellbeing also improved. Marat became a believer in the advantages of ART. He delved into HIV literature to understand as much as possible about the virus. As part of a multi-disciplinary team, he travelled to remote villages in Chui province to provide informational and educational services. He counselled patients and did outreach work with people who inject drugs (PWID’s).
“By helping others,” Marat said, “I was helping myself.”
In 2011, Marat, along with a psychologist/coordinator and two outreach workers, founded the public fund Prosvet. This volunteer based group collaborated with organizations to educate people about HIV in Bishkek. In 2012, Prosvet received sub-recipient funding from the UNDP implemented Global Fund HIV grant.
The Global Fund HIV grant focuses on preventing HIV by promoting human rights and gender equality, strengthening the governance component, and mainstreaming AIDS issues into national policies. One of its goals is to improve the treatment, care and support for people living with HIV (PLHIV) and promote measures to prevent HIV among populations at higher risk.
Now Prosvet has eight staff members. It has expanded its presence beyond Bishkek to three towns nearby: Kara-Balta, Kant and Sokuluk, increasing its client coverage. The organization provides counselling, psychological testing, services on rehabilitation and reintegration into society as well as legal advice. Because 60 per cent of Prosvet’s staff is HIV positive, they can relate to their clients. While patients may not trust doctors, Marat says, they trust their equals, which is apparent with the success of peer-to-peer counselling.
Prosvet encourages clients to not only begin ART, but to strictly adhere to the therapy. From January to March 2014, Prosvet had ART commitment from 129 PLHIV. The organization works with medical personnel and family of PLHIV to combat HIV stigma and discrimination. Knowing one’s HIV status is vital to get medical treatment early and to minimize the risk of spreading the infection to others.
As a result of increased access to prevention and treatment services through organizations like Prosvet, 1,196 adults and children received ART in May 2014, compared with 778 in May 2013.
Today, Marat exudes confidence and determination that would have been impossible a few years earlier. “People need me,” Marat said. “Clients look forward to my visits. They wait for my consultations and to bring them motivational packages.”
Although Marat is now divorced, he has a good relationship with his daughter. And with support from people like Marat and organizations like Prosvet, no one needs to go through the same confusion and anxiety he endured when he was diagnosed with HIV.