I was first diagnosed with HIV in 2005. I tested positive when I was 29 years old. At that time, I was attending evening classes to accomplish my dreams. During the daytime, I used to work for my living. I started falling sick and become bedridden. My appetite for food significantly deteriorated. I lost weight dramatically. I started experiencing severe flu-like symptoms. I went to several health facilities seeking to restore my health. However, none of them could give me lasting solution. Eventually, I decided to get an HIV test.
When I was informed of my positive test, desperateness filled me and everything around turned gloomy and horrifying. I thought my dream was aborted and short-lived. I assumed I would die soon and became no longer interested in life. Overall, I was scared, sad, and even angry at what happened to me. I felt as if everything was over and reached point of no return.
My CD4 count was only 13. Rumors were circulating that those with a CD4 count of less than 100 had a little hope to recover from the disease. For me, that was the most terrible information to hear. I stigmatized myself and stayed at home, counting days down to my death.
Through a friend of mine, I was privileged to access antiretroviral treatment (ART) free of charge. In a few weeks after I initiated treatment, I started going better, slowly but surely. As time passed by and as I saw my conditions gradually improve, I regained my positive energy and developed a strong commitment to battle against the virus. As a first step, I resumed attending school.
A life-changing incident came to happen to me when ICAP introduced a peer-to-peer HIV education pilot program in Adama referral hospital in 2005. ICAP had already implemented the peer-to-peer education pilot program in Dil Chora, Adama, Jimma and Asela hospitals for two years. Sister Genet Geletu, then the ART focal person at Adama referral hospital, recruited me to actively engage in the HIV peer-to-peer education program.
After seeing my active involvement in the peer group, the ICAP team privileged me to coordinate the peer-to-peer program at Adama hospital, which I consider as another breakthrough to transforming myself to a higher level of commitment. ICAP provided us with an intensive training course on peer-to-peer education and for two years I successfully coordinated the pilot implementation of the peer-to-peer HIV program. A total of twelve HIV clients were in the program, through which we provided HIV counseling, linkage to care, and lost-to-follow-up services in the hospital. Our peer group served as a bridge between health care providers and HIV clients.
At the baseline of the program, a total of 800 PLHIV were receiving HIV services in Adama hospital. After two years (in 2007), the program grew to 7,000 clients. This growth in participants shows the spread of the HIV epidemic in Ethiopia. In 2010, the peer-to-peer HIV program shifted to HIV case managers program using the Greater Involvement of People Living with HIV principle, or GIPA. With the introduction of the GIPA principle, we were empowered to deliver a range of HIV services to the ever-increasing number of HIV clients enrolled into our ART program. While serving as case manager in Adama Hospital at this time, I got my BA degree in management from Adama University in 2010.