Kevin Kouassi, son of a canton chief in rural Cote d'Ivoire, was 32 and living in Abidjan when the fevers started, followed by diarrhea, typhoid, and anemia. Within months, his weight dropped to 114 pounds, and he moved back to his family's village.
His story might have ended there, but for a wise and caring father's advice: Get tested for HIV.
Kevin received HIV counseling and testing at the Centre NDA in Dimbokro, where the nurse providing post-test counseling asked Kevin to identify someone to whom he could disclose his HIV-positive status. With some trepidation, Kevin chose his father.
"I wondered how he would react. Would he reject me?" Kevin recalls. "When I told him, he said, 'You're my son, and I'm not going to reject you because of an illness.' ... From then on, I became more confident. My father accompanied me to all my appointments, he monitored that I took my medications, he paid for my prescriptions."
Kevin started antiretroviral treatment (ART) at Centre NDA, becoming one of 34,900 patients in Cote d'Ivoire receiving ART with direct support from the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (Emergency Plan/ PEPFAR) as of September 2007. After 15 months, Kevin is free of opportunistic infections, and his weight has rebounded to 140 pounds.
Eight months ago, when Centre NDA was looking for someone to provide support to newly identified HIV-positive clients and help find HIV/AIDS patients "lost to follow-up," Kevin volunteered. He now works full-time, with a monthly stipend, to find, counsel, and accompany HIV/AIDS patients, and he's helped establish an association of persons living with HIV/AIDS.
Kevin's message, based on his own experience, is that being tested is the first step toward transforming HIV/AIDS from a death sentence into a positive life. Citing his father's lifesaving role, he urges families to support those with HIV/AIDS to enable them to enjoy their right to a normal life, to work, to a family of their own, to hope for a better tomorrow. "My wish," he says, "is that everyone's parents be like my father."
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