“I first learned about my HIV status in 2008. I refused to go to the hospital for medication. I could not imagine myself being seen among people living with HIV at the clinic. I imagined that members of my community would see me and I would not be able to bear the shame.”
Elizabeth, like many people in Nigeria, did not know the dangers of living with HIV without accessing needed treatment, care and support. Instead, she became engrossed in seeking herbal treatments, going from one herbalist to another. She said, “I started falling sick frequently. I drank more than 20 pots of herbal mixtures from different native doctors in and outside rural areas of Benue State but they did not work. I was introduced to a spiritual healer in Lagos who would pray for me to get healed. In August 2012 I travelled to Lagos to receive healing but I felt I could not enter the prayer hall due to my shame. They always show this man’s miracles on television and I thought that other people watching might recognise me so I returned home without receiving prayer.
When I returned from Lagos, I resorted to drinking holy water and olive oil and praying at all times for healing. In the same year 2012, I made a decision to follow Jesus and serve Him. My husband is a Muslim but said he would not stop me from practicing my new faith. In September 2013, I met Mrs. Patricia who is the pastor’s wife where I worship. She kept encouraging and teaching me from the word of God after I told her about my problem. I continued to attend church services but still refused to go to the hospital for medication despite the encouragement from my pastor’s wife.
When I was asked to attend the training workshop on Comprehensive HIV Interventions organised by ACET Nigeria in November 2013 along with my pastor and his wife, I was very reluctant but my husband encouraged me to attend. I learned a lot at the training but what changed my decision about my health was Sunday Bakut who shared how he had been living with HIV and how antiretroviral medication had helped him stay healthy. I was moved and decided to take an HIV test again at the training to be sure about my status. I also learned how to test other people. My result was still positive but the way Sunday handled my problem made me so happy and determined to live a positive and healthy life.”
Sunday, who was previously an ACET volunteer and is now part of ACET Nigeria’s staff team, kept encouraging Elizabeth to enrol in antiretroviral therapy. In December 2013 Elizabeth made the decision to live and by February 2014 she began antiretroviral treatment at the General Hospital. Elizabeth said, “Adherence to drugs has not been easy. I used to forget to take my medication. Some days I would not take it until my mentor, Sunday, continued to talk with me. This year (2016), he taught me how to use an alarm clock to remember which I am presently using to support my adherence.”
When we asked Elizabeth if she would like to share her story, she said, “If not for Sunday’s story, maybe I would have died! If Sunday’s story has helped me to do what I needed to live, my own story can also help other people.”
Elizabeth has since joined ACET Nigeria as a volunteer with a renewed resolve to be an agent of change in her community, church and family.