Care and Support Program Helps an HIV-Positive Athlete Regain Strength and Self-Esteem

Care and Support Program Helps an HIV-Positive Athlete Regain Strength and Self-Esteem

Shelly with her latest trophy after winning first place at a 2012 regional Emancipation Day race. {Photo credit: V. Hinds/MSH.}Photo credit: V. Hinds/MSH.

Shelly has always been very athletic. She competed in both her high school track events and in community races in her hometown of Essequibo, Guyana. In 2010, she was ecstatic after winning a cash prize for placing first in an annual regional championship. However, her life took a turn one year later.

Shelly became pregnant and, during an antenatal care appointment, tested positive for HIV. The news devastated her, as she believed that an HIV diagnosis meant her athletic career was over. Shelly was unaware of how to remain healthy while living with HIV, and so she soon became ill, weak, and lost a significant amount of weight. To add to this, she was unemployed and lacked the means to provide for her newborn son.

In 2011, the hospital that was treating Shelly referred her to Hope for All for HIV care and support services. Hope for All is a USAID-funded non-governmental organization (NGO) that receives technical support from the PEPFAR-funded, USAID-implemented Guyana HIV/AIDS Reduction and Prevention Project, phase II (GHARP II), led by Management Sciences for Health (MSH).

With support from GHARP II, Hope for All helped Shelly to gain employment as a maid. The organization’s staff also taught Shelly the importance of regularly and consistently taking her medication, and provided her with nutritional training to help her maintain a healthy diet and stay hydrated.

By August 2012, Shelly had regained her strength and won first place in a regional Emancipation Day championship race. This was an extremely gratifying moment for Shelly, who now feels optimistic about her future because she is healthy enough to pursue her passion for running.

“Everyone asks me why I’m still running even though I’m sick. I tell them that I am strong and God is in charge," Shelly said. "I tell them that they shouldn't try to break my spirit."

GHARP II’s care and support program is implemented by seven NGOs, including Hope for All, and has reached 1,345 HIV-positive adults and 1,322 orphans and vulnerable children. The NGOs provide education, medical care, and psychosocial support to help their HIV-positive and OVC clients remain healthy. These organizations also conduct professional skills training for clients and link them to jobs in the community.

In 2012, the seven NGOs trained 75 adults in small business management, sewing, tailoring, and farming skills. Fifty of these clients now have jobs and/or businesses. Although GHARP II will end next month, these individuals now have the skills and knowledge to maintain their health and the economic means to support themselves and their families.

GHARP II is a USAID-funded project led by MSH, with partners Howard Delafield International and AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

Shameza David is a program officer for GHARP II.