October 10, 2023
Deborah is one of the oldest stories of PEPFAR’s impact in Kenya and is a true testament to the purpose and mission of PEPFAR. More than 20 years ago, Deborah was diagnosed with HIV. She says, “I stayed home for a long time, thinking that I wished the earth could open up and swallow me.”
Out of desire to “pay it forward,” Deborah then mentored HIV positive children and their families, seeking out children not taking antiretrovirals (ARVs) and urging their families to get them back on the treatment that saved her own life. “I went to neighborhoods, schools, churches, hospitals - everywhere; I was free talking to people; I didn’t hide [my status]; I wanted to help people.”
Deborah has encouraged countless pregnant women with HIV to seek out prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) services, sharing her own impactful experience.
In 2013, MHRP initiated the African Cohort Study (AFRICOS), a large, long-term cohort study to evaluate the HIV prevention, care and treatment services it supports through local facilities, funded by PEPFAR. Deborah was the first volunteer to enroll in AFRICOS in Kenya. After enrollment, Deborah was screened and treated for cervical cancer.
Today, Deborah teaches tailoring skills to those who are vulnerable to or affected by HIV. She is one of millions of Kenyans who is able to live with hope, thanks to PEPFAR’s long-term, multi-layered support. In her own words: “I am proud of myself, because I don’t think about whether I am HIV positive now… we used to be stigmatized, but since starting ARVs, I am free, I can do anything that I want to do, and I am seeing that I am somebody.”
Deborah is somebody special, and now she has raised, strong, empowered women, just like herself – but with even greater levels of education and opportunity than she had herself. “I am proud of them and myself for what we have accomplished.”
Photo and story courtesy of Sarah Day Smith.