Mercy Egbejule, a Nigerian woman living with HIV, has come a long way since she tested positive for HIV in 2003. Mercy recently married a man who is also HIV-positive, and is looking forward to sharing her life with him. She says that finding someone "with whom together we can fight HIV/AIDS is a big plus." Mercy is also helping care for orphaned and vulnerable children affected by HIV/AIDS after receiving PEPFAR-supported training.
"The children are doing well and the oldest of them is 16 years old. We meet monthly at a resource center in Ipaja, where I teach them about HIV/AIDS, sex education, peer pressure and moral etiquette," she said. "The joy is that many lives are being affected positively. For me this is unbelievable. Nobody thought I would make it," she added. "Before medication I was seriously sick with TB. That I am now strong and can give care and support to others is like a mission accomplished for me."
When she tested positive for HIV in 2003, soon after losing a baby at birth, Mercy was rejected by her boyfriend. The boyfriend, who tested negative, insisted that the baby could not be his. Mercy was also rejected by her family after they learned from one of her siblings that she had HIV. "I went through some hard times," she says.
Mercy believes that it is crucial for people with HIV not to avoid treatment because of fear of stigmatization. "Stigmatization is real, but it must not be a reason to prevent them [people with HIV] from living their normal lives," she says. "It is a pity that some people living with the virus stigmatize themselves and refuse to disclose their status to their relations. Disclosing your HIV status to close ones definitely helps in accessing care and support."
Mercy has been creative in helping others to live with HIV/AIDS. After conducting a survey in the town of Ipaja, she says that "I came up with the idea of Ipaja Community Link to educate [HIV-positive young women] about HIV/AIDS, HIV testing, opportunistic infections, nutrition, and positive living." She was able to steer 10 young mothers into counseling within a month of proposing this idea.
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