From despair to hope: A mother in South Sudan overcomes the challenges of HIV

March 4, 2024
Joyce is participant in the ACHIEVE project in South Sudan.
With support from the ACHIEVE project, Joyce is taking care of herself and her children. Credit: Jhpiego

By Christine Abeneko

Joyce is a 35-year-old woman who lives in Juba, South Sudan, with her five children aged between 7 and 18 years. Her husband died in 2015 while she was pregnant with her fifth child. Joyce was unaware of the cause of his death until she visited the antenatal clinic at Kator Primary Health Care Center (PHCC) where she found out she was HIV-positive. Ultimately, Joyce discovered that HIV was the cause of her husband’s death. 

Like many people, Joyce’s reaction to her HIV diagnosis was a classic case of denial. Joyce said it felt like the end of the world for her and her children. She asked herself, How did I get HIV?  

In the tunnel of Joyce’s despair, a light flickered when she received a visit from case workers and social workers from the USAID-funded Adolescents and Children HIV Incidence Reduction, Empowerment and Virus Elimination (ACHIEVE) project. Through this support network, Joyce was enrolled on antiretroviral therapy (ART) at Kator PHCC. Enrolling on treatment resulted in suppression of her viral load. This was a result of a combined effort from both the clinicians who closely monitored her viral load and ensured she attended all of her clinical appointments, and ACHIEVE’s case care workers who monitored Joyce’s medication adherence through phone calls, SMS and home visits.   

“At first, I declined to meet or talk [to the case worker], but I opened up during a second visit,” Joyce recalled. “I later joined a parenting group where I met other caregivers and children living with HIV, which made me realize that being infected with HIV was not the end of the world. It helped me to face life with courage and hope. Being part of this group saved my life. It made me resilient to life’s challenges and made me determined to take care of my children, all of whom are HIV negative.” 

Joyce receives further support through ACHIEVE’s orphan and vulnerable children (OVC) activity, which works with children living with HIV and HIV-positive caregivers by providing case management services. This includes counseling on adherence and disclosure, viral load testing and ART medication reminders, and monitoring participants with high viral loads to ensure suppression. The OVC activity also provides disclosure counseling through parenting sessions, which gave Joyce the confidence to disclose her status to both her children and community. The parenting sessions, which meet weekly, bring together other caregivers like Joyce to discuss issues such as caring for teenagers, positive discipline, family budgeting and how to improve family relationships. Additionally, the OVC activity offers educational support, which helped Joyce pay for her children’s school fees and other education related materials.

Through her journey, Joyce has become a beacon of hope within her community. She now serves as a mentor to other caregivers who are living with HIV. Joyce’s voluntary decision to disclose her HIV status to her children and community has helped encourage other HIV-positive caregivers living in her community to accept their status and live positively. Joyce said that she has become physically so strong that people do not believe that she is HIV positive. With a new outlook on the future, Joyce is committed to living a healthy life for herself, her children and her community.