MONROVIA -- Florence, 39, didn’t know she was HIV+ until two years after her husband’s death. He died of AIDS, but never told her what his illness was or that she too had probably contracted the virus.
She only discovered she was HIV+ after she had started a new life with another man and was pregnant with his child. She went to the hospital in Monrovia for routine tests and was told the news.
“I was sad and angry, if I had known I could have protected myself,” she says in an interview at the Redemption Hospital in the Liberian capital.
It took a while to accept the situation. But because she is a strong woman, Florence gradually overcame the shocks. Food assistance, delivered through the HIV unit at the Redemption hospital, played a crucial role.
“When I was pregnant I came here to get my treatment and I got food from WFP. I still get food from WFP to help with the drugs. The drugs are strong and having the right food helps me fight the disease,” she says.
Thanks to the food and the medication, which she takes religiously, Florence is able to work support her six children. She sells soft drinks.
Recently, she has started to do volunteer work, helping fellow Liberians who find themselves in similar situations as she did.
Florence is part of a team working out of Redemption Hospital. She and other HIV/AIDS patients go out into the local community to talk about HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. They share their own stories and encourage people to get tested. On Fridays they run a support workshop with 4 other volunteers at the hospital.
“I do that for my family. I was very sad when I was diagnosed but now I can see a future without HIV/AIDS, and I have put it behind me.”
She has had her children tested for HIV and they are negative.
The medical staff coordinating Florence’s volunteer team say HIV/AIDS cases in the hospital are increasing for adults, but they suggest this is because there is more awareness about it and people are talking about HIV/AIDS more.
The work done by Florence and her fellow volunteers is good, they say, as it makes people see that it’s OK to talk about their situation and that there is a solution.