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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 December, 2004, 08:09 GMT
Living with the threat of HIV
By Michelle Roberts
BBC News health reporter

Image of Mebrat
Mebrat talks openly about HIV with her children
In Sub-Saharan Africa, where there is the highest number of people living with HIV in the world, the future may not look bright.

But people living in the township of Humera in northwest Tigray, Ethiopia, are working together to fight the disease and the prejudice that surrounds it.

Mebrat Gebreyesus is a single mother of three and grandmother of two.

She says it is about being aware of the risks but not living in fear of the virus.

Fear factor

She is teaching her children and grandchildren how to protect themselves against HIV.

Mebrat believes that these discussions bring them closer together as a family.

"The more open we become, the more our children can depend on and trust us and what we tell them, and then they will always remember our counsel which may save their lives."

Image of Behailu
We have to fear the disease, not our friends and relatives who live with the virus.
Behailu Taddese is a senior HIV counsellor in Humera

Mebrat saw first-hand the impact the disease can have while working as a cleaner in Kahsay Abera Hospital.

She said this experience encouraged her to look beyond her own personal fears to participate openly in conversations about HIV/Aids.

But many people do not have a family to give them support.

Part of Yirga Dereje work with the charity Medicines Sans Frontieres has been as a driver assisting in the repatriation of Aids patients.

These are mainly migrant workers, who have recovered sufficient strength to leave the hospital but need additional time to convalesce.

Attitude

Migrant workers have usually come to the area on their own to find employment and cannot rely on local family support structures.

Yirga helps many find accommodation for the night.

"It is very difficult to find a room for such patients.

"Owners refuse to rent their rooms, even for double the usual rate, just because they suspected they might have Aids.

Image of Ejegayehu
There is no reason to be ashamed.
Ejegayehu Yemer who has lived in Humera for 10 years

"There were several times where I had to make deal with my relatives to allow patients to stay overnight."

Ejegayehu Yemer owns a bar in Humera and has lived in the community for more than 10 years.

She says there is still much to do before attitudes really change for the better.

She has seen many of the women working in her bar become very sick, sometimes with alarming speed.

Ejegayehu and her staff hold informal discussion groups on HIV/Aids and related issues such as sexually transmitted infections.

They have recently invited health educators along to their coffee ceremonies to give the women more detailed information about complicated issues.

Ejegayehu said: "There is no reason to be ashamed or to hesitate about learning the effective ways of prevention, including how to use condoms properly."

Behailu Taddese is a senior HIV counsellor with the voluntary counselling and testing service in Kahsay Abera Hospital, Humera.

He says the sole way to achieve HIV prevention and control is to foster mutual respect.

He said the infected become more responsible and care about the impact of the disease on their community if the affected show them love and compassion.

"If we keep silent, as if nothing has happened, hiding from each other, it might cost us to lose a generation.

"We have to fear the disease, not our friends and relatives who live with the virus."

Ayana Melese, a 21-year-old college student, has made the personal decision to continue his friendship with several people since it was confirmed they were HIV-positive.

This is despite the fact that other people in the Humera community, including some of his own relatives, refuse to maintain the same relationships.

Ayana said: "A close friend and neighbour was emaciated and had obvious skin problems.

"Everybody in the neighbourhood said he had Aids and most of them didn't want to come close to him.

"I remained his friend and gave him whatever support I could.

"I can't deny that watching a loved one's pain is awful.

"However, I constantly supported him until he died.

"I have learned, through the experience of my dear late friend, how seriously I should consider taking care of myself and valuing my life," he said.

The testimonies all came from friends of patients receiving antiretroviral treatment in a Medicine Sans Frontiere's clinic.


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