When we hear about HIV/AIDS, we very rarely hear good news stories. People become victims… they are labelled as just another statistic of the disease that spreads its destruction across nations.
But we here at Sari Bari witness a different sort of story.
We see women with the disease become empowered through the healing and treatment process. They aren’t powerless victims, they are courageous overcomers.
“I’ve accompanied many women in their journey with HIV,” says Melissa, Sari Bari’s Director of Aftercare (outgoing). “For me personally, it’s overwhelming when someone has a positive diagnosis, to be the one who tells them. It often feels like a weight of responsibility – I know all the work it’s going to take to get her care, and I have a lot of fear about what lies ahead for her.”
“But one of the things I love is then seeing the women become empowered as they secure their own treatment,” Melissa says.
“There was one woman who was quite sick when we found out she was positive. The process of getting her engaged in the government treatment was very long and complicated. But it’s beautiful to see how different she is after receiving treatment. Her entire personality has shifted because she’s so much healthier. It’s amazing how that jump in her physical health has brought out this beautiful personality as she’s been able to come through some of that fear, and as she physically feels better. It’s been beautiful to see her bloom and transform.”
Approximately 8% of the women at Sari Bari have received an HIV positive diagnosis. Most of the women do not know they are positive until joining Sari Bari – it’s usually detected during their first Well Woman Check Up.
If a woman is HIV positive, Sari Bari does two main things – we accompany her along the sometimes complicated path of treatment, and then we empower her to manage the treatment on her own. She becomes capable, rather than crippled by her diagnosis.
The Government of West Bengal provides free HIV treatment and testing. The women get tests (called a CD4 Count) done every 6 months to ensure their immunity levels remain at a healthy level. If their count falls below a certain level, they receive medication monthly.
“It can be incredibly frustrating to engage treatment,” Melissa says. “So if a woman is positive, we’ll walk with her very closely in the first 6 months, helping her learn the system – taking her to appointments, completing all the paperwork, and getting her integrated into the system.”
“We also give the women vitamins every month, to help with their nutrition. And we have a way of compensating them for the time they miss at work to attend their doctors’ appointments. They also receive an additional amount every month to make sure they’re eating better.”
According to Sari Bari’s 2014 Annual Survey, of the 104 women surveyed, 65% know what HIV is, and 60% can accurately describe how it is spread. “We try to educate the women about what HIV is and the truth behind the disease, because with education comes power, understanding and lack of fear. We fear what we don’t understand,” Melissa says.
“There is a stigma against HIV/AIDS in this country. Some of that stems from lack of education and understanding of the disease and how it spreads. Awareness is improving, but there is still incredible fear and very often a lot of mistreatment of people who are positive.”
Melissa says when the women initially learn of their diagnosis, they often see themselves as a victim. “All of that is fear in not knowing, so we tell them that they can live a long and healthy life. They are not alone. There is medicine available. There are a lot of ways this disease can go, but there is still hope.”
We really value all the supporters who contribute financially, so we can provide an extra level of care to these women. For just $15, you can help us support a woman with HIV for one month. If you’re in a position to give, we’d love your support!
Written by Nicole Peck