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Mamaleshoae Nkhahle, "They look at me and see that I am not close to dying"

Mamaleshoae Nkhahle, an expert patient with HIV who works with Likotsi health clinic in Lesotho’s capital Maseru
(Jeff Barbee)

Mamaleshoae Nkhahle is a mother of four who works as an expert patient at the Likotsi health clinic in Lesotho's capital, Maseru. She helps people newly diagnosed with HIV to come to grips with the stigma of the disease, and diminishes the effects of such attitudes by talking openly about her own experiences of living with the virus.

"At first I feared that if people found out I would be a laughing stock, and shunned by my peers. But once they were told about it, and how many other people were infected by it, they understood. They are now positive towards me.

"Once I educated them, the stigma against me decreased. While the stigma is better, my life has deteriorated so much because of the disease - I had to stop working in the [textile] factories, even though I have a family to look after.

"After a while I almost had nothing to live on and I started to become very lonely. I went to a counsellor, who listened to me. I asked her if I could talk about my experiences to people with the disease because it made me feel better.

"That is how I became an expert patient at the clinic. For the work that I do I am given a reward, like food and a small amount of money. The people I talk to only know a little about the disease, so it is very hard for them to be positive.

"I tell them my CD4 count [which measures immune system strength] was 39 before I went on ART [antiretroviral treatment] and TB [tuberculosis] treatment, and now it is 730. They look at me and see that I am not close to dying, and get hope from that.

"Stigma is the biggest killer in Lesotho, as the ARVs will save your life. You must be willing to accept the situation you are in. If people talk about HIV and tell their kids about it then less people will become infected.

"The people who have most difficulties with accepting the disease are men, as they do not want to listen - they say it is a woman's job to find these things out.

"Even though life is better now that I am on ARVs, I am still not sure how I will survive with my kids. I get around R800 (US$110) a month for the expert patient work I do, but I am afraid if the money stops I will not have anything."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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