November 24, 2023
When Edith Okafor, a 50-year-old widow and caregiver of four boys, walked into the Clinical Training and Research Centre (CTRC), 44 Nigerian Army Reference Hospital Kaduna (NARHK) to begin antiretroviral therapy in April 2007, she had no idea that that encounter would become the beacon of hope in her state of despair.
Reflecting on her journey, Edith recalled that she first discovered she was living with HIV in 2007 after she was tested at a facility in her community. After discovering her status, she battled depression, self-stigma and experienced a loss of interest in life. This eventually led to her being laid off from her job as a schoolteacher. Life became very tough for Edith and her family, as she couldn’t secure another job.
At NARHK, Edith was received by the counselors who counseled her, carried out a confirmatory test and enrolled her for treatment. Edith, who described the counselors at the facility as her pillars of support, noted that her hope was renewed after meeting and speaking with them. “They were so kind and supportive and gave me the confidence to take another shot at life,” she said.
The burden of struggling to take care of her children without a job was relieved when one of her sons was selected as one of the beneficiaries of the Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) School Fee Program, an initiative implemented by the Nigeria Ministry of Defence Health Implementation Programme (NMOD-HIP) in partnership with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) and HJFMRI to improve access to education for orphans and vulnerable children affected by or vulnerable to HIV in military communities in Nigeria.
The program, with funding from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for ADIS Relief (PEPFAR), sent Edith’s son to school and provided educational support for him from JSS1 to SSS3. He also wrote his Senior School Certificate Examinations, all completely paid for by the program. In addition, the program empowered Edith as she was trained and employed as an OVC Case Finder, and she later became the Contact Tracker at the facility.
"I was a depressed teacher when I found out that I was HIV positive. I lost my job with no hope that an HIV-positive person could be employed,” Edith said. “I am a testimony to people that being HIV positive is not the end of life. I am living a life I once thought was impossible."
Edith Okafor's story is one amongst many that stands as a testament to the impacts of the WRAIR-NMOD partnership made possible through funding by PEPFAR.