Angelina Lino: "I tell people I have HIV so they can know it's real"
|December 2007 (PlusNews)
JUBA, Angelina Lino, 23, works as a volunteer at People Living with AIDS in Southern Sudan (PLASS), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) based in Juba, the provincial capital. A trained mechanic and driver, she discovered that she was HIV-positive in March 2007 and declared her status in an effort to keep more young people from contracting the virus. She shared her story with IRIN/PlusNews.
Photo: Kate Holt/IRIN
|I found it hard to believe I was HIV positive; I had only ever been with one man.
"I am the last-born and was only three months old when my parents separated. Mum tilled other people's land to provide for nine siblings and me. It was during the war, and it was very hard for her to put food on the table and pay school fees.
"I was still in school when I met him. He worked for an international NGO based in Yambio, my hometown [close to Sudan's border with the Democratic Republic of Congo]. The neighbourhood children fetched water from a borehole in his compound, so everyone knew him. He was a senior officer [in the Sudan People's Liberation Army] and drove around in this big [Toyota] Land Cruiser.
"He must have heard about my situation, so he sent people to me asking that I visit him. When I inquired of his intentions they all said he was a good man, willing to help and to pay my school fees.
"For about a month I resisted his advances - I was 15 and uninterested in men - but one evening he dispatched his driver and security guard, I sneaked out, hopped into the Land Cruiser and in minutes was dropped off at his place.
"He was happy to see me; he excitedly told me many things - that he loved me and wanted to pay my school fees. He took me to his bed saying, 'Do not fear, I will be your father and mother, and will take care of you.' He promised to meet Dad the following day to announce that he is my boyfriend.
"We had sex. It was my first time and very painful. I did not enjoy it but figured that God had found me a caring man to love and see me through school.
"He kept his word and met my family. I moved in with him. He paid my school fees balance in Yambio and also paid for my secondary school in Arua, northwestern Uganda.
"He even bought me a plot in Yambio and built me a two-roomed brick house. I was happy. During one of the school holidays, he brought me a gift - a small Toyota Corolla. We were a happy couple and I felt I had all that I needed.
"The next school holiday I went home [from Arua] to find he had been transferred to Nairobi. He sounded a different man. He said he would continue paying my school fees but would never come back to Yambio. I was devastated.
"2003 was the last time we talked. Later, I tried calling and e-mailing him, but it was in vain. Reality sank in painfully in March this year when I suffered a bout of tuberculosis, fever and malaria. The doctor suggested I take an HIV test. I never felt alarmed - after all, I had only known one man.
"The news that I was HIV-positive was hard to believe. The doctor at Mulago Hospital [in the Ugandan capital, Kampala] admitted me for a month and put me on antiretrovirals (ARVs) - he said my CD-4 count [which measures the strength of the immune system] was very low.
"Recently, in Juba, I met my ex-boyfriend's best friend and former workmate at Yambio. He confirmed that my ex-boyfriend had all along known his status and was on ARV treatment. He was previously married, before we met. In fact, he had lost his wife and two children to HIV-related complications.
"I felt cheated and naïve that I had had sex without protection. I was young and knew nothing about condoms or HIV/AIDS. I feel betrayed by the only boyfriend I ever had. He infected me knowingly, and I will never forgive him.
"My people in South Sudan know very little about HIV/AIDS, its transmission and prevention. Some associate it with witchcraft. That is why I have gone public about my status, telling them 'HIV is real'.
"I visit hot spots like discos and bars, and talk to vulnerable groups: prostitutes, soldiers, long-distance truckers, the 'senke' boys [motorcycle-taxi operators] and the youth. Some do not believe me and tease, 'A beautiful girl like you cannot be HIV-positive'.
"Ignorance and stigma are a bitter reality. A brother-in-law of mine refused to shake my hand or share utensils. My stepmother recently threw me out, telling off my dad for wasting money on a "girl who is dying very soon anyway".
"I have dreams. To go back to school, get into medical college and become a doctor. Most importantly, I want to live long.
|[The above testimony is provided by IRIN, a humanitarian news service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]
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