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 Wednesday 16 June 2010
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Halima*, "You find out very quickly who your friends are"
June 2010 (PlusNews)

Photo: Casey Johnson/IRIN
"We don't have to bury our heads in the sand like an ostrich"
NAIROBI, In Somalia's conservative Muslim society it is extremely rare for someone living with HIV to speak out about their status, and even more so for a woman. But Halima*, a Somali refugee in Kenya and a mother of four in her fifties, told IRIN her story, which is also part of a recent IRIN Radio Somali programme.

"I found that I was HIV-positive in 2009. I was being treated for TB [tuberculosis] when I was advised that I should go to the VCT [voluntary counselling and testing] centre and get tested. The results came back and I was informed I was HIV-positive.

"At first I was devastated - all I knew about the disease was that it had no cure, and that anyone who contracts it dies. I suspect that my former husband passed it on to me. He is now in Somalia, and, I am told, sick.

"At First I did not tell anyone out of fear that my children and I will be ostracized. Thankfully, all my children have tested negative.

"When something like this happens you find out very quickly who your friends are. Everybody is afraid of you. I had to move house at least four times because I could not deal with the discrimination by others.

"People here think that if they talk to you they will catch the disease; there is so much ignorance.

''People here think that if they talk to you they will catch the disease; there is so much ignorance''
"The worst part is that even those being treated for the disease will not acknowledge that they are being treated. I run into them at the VCT and everyone pretends they are there for something else. Instead of supporting each other, we run away from each other. It is sad.

"If you ask me, the biggest problem we face is ignorance and stigma. I am worried about discrimination, but I want to speak up.

"I would like to see awareness campaigns targeting young people and women. I want them to know how to protect themselves - we don't have to bury our heads in the sand like an ostrich.

"I am now on medication and doing fine, but need more help. Here [Dadaab refugee camp in northeastern Kenya] we only get the medication, nothing else. We need help in getting proper food.

"At first I honestly did not think I would live, but now I am here and I want to do what I can to help my children, and others like them, to stay safe. Maybe if people hear about my story, then others will benefit. That is why I am speaking out."


* Not her real name


[The above testimony is provided by IRIN, a humanitarian news service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]

IRIN welcomes editorial and photographic submissions for inclusion on this page, reserving the right to select and edit as appropriate.
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This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States. Republication is subject to terms and conditions as set out in the IRIN copyright page.