Breaking down HIV stigma in Mozambique
Every day, 410 people in Mozambique are infected with HIV. People like Celina, who was diagnosed when she was just 18 years old.
She was shocked at the level of stigma and insufficient care that women with the virus and in extreme poverty contend with - and decided to take action, bringing together a group of HIV+ women willing to speak out publicly about their status and raise awareness.
Now, with VSO-supported training, her team is not only inspiring women living with HIV to see positive futures, but offering practical home-based care and support that is truly changing lives.
A fiercely passionate HIV and AIDS activist, Celina is a welcome presence in the Maxaquena township just outside of Maputo, Mozambique where she delivers care and advice.
There's a high concentration of people living with the disease here. Thankfully they are supported by Celina and her team of 35 women, who have been trained by VSO-supported project AMIMO to make daily home visits offering care and support with symptoms, nutrition and medication advice.
It’s a world away from where the mother-of-one was a few years ago, when she was bedridden with symptoms of HIV.
She says: “I was 18 when I started having problems with my skin and my mother made me go for HIV testing. When I got to know my status, there was no treatment."
"I remember watching TV programmes broadcasting [how people] died from AIDS. That message shocked me."
"I started looking for a cure. But HIV has no cure so I decided to look for people who were experiencing the same problems. They became my cure.”
Celina was lucky to find a combination of medication and peer-support that helped her accept her status. However, she wanted to help others who weren’t so fortunate, and brought together ten HIV positive women who called themselves ‘Breaking The Silence’.
She says, “I was surrounded by people who understood me, and that comforted me. That is why we as a group decided to disclosure our status and go out to talk about HIV & AIDS, visiting different families to raise awareness.”
To further break the taboo, Celina brought her medical documents and pills to each home to prove they weren’t alone. Even today, she takes some of her eight types of tablets alongside patients in a show of solidarity.
Additionally, Celina's team today go into health units and hospitals to give talks on their experiences.
A better future
Celina has shunned several well-paid jobs in favour of volunteering at her project. She says, “Whenever I save a life, that’s my money. This is where I want to be. Whenever I help someone who is experiencing this disease, I feel happy.”
AMIMO- a VSO-supported organisation that works with migrant miners and their families- was so taken by Celina’s zeal that it offered to train her in HIV home-based care, even though she didn't meet its usual criteria of being related to a miner (among whom HIV rates are very high). They also supportred her to start a very small snack stall so that she doesn’t have to depend on her husband’s income.
She says, “I also run a women’s group who have had babies and who tested negative- that’s due to my support. I have a seven-year-old son who is negative, and I can share this experience to them."
"Now my team of ten has become 34 HIV positive women, giving our testimonies in different communities helping over 100 people. The women I am working with have all recovered, and are now helping others who are bedridden to recover. That’s a very positive thing."