Pioneers in fighting stigma
Thirteen years ago, HIV/AIDS was not considered a problem
by most Kenyans and Africans. People thought it was a foreign
disease. Concepts such as counselling were unheard of. Stigma,
expulsion from the community, insults - even by students against
teachers - were common.
Dorothy is convinced that the stress caused by stigma and
public rejection is a bigger killer than the virus itself.
"Many people abandoned faith and let themselves die when
faced with such an overwhelming, and in those times certain,
death sentence," she explains.
Dorothy chose to fight. With a group of friends she founded
the Network of African People Living with HIV/AIDS (NAP+)
and was one of the founders of the Association of Women Fighting
AIDS in Kenya. In 1995, she left the education system to dedicate
herself to HIV/AIDS prevention work. She became a representative
in the UNAIDS programme coordination board and was elected
member of Kenya's HIV/AIDS Task Force dealing with legal and
The Federation too has come a long way. "I simply wanted
to take those nice words written in guidelines and policies
and turn them into reality," says Patrick Couteau, regional
HIV/AIDS coordinator, recalling how he prepared an unusual
job announcement to be placed in several local newspapers.
The announcement advertised the regional delegation's search
for an individual who is HIV positive to manage prevention
For Patrick Couteau there is no substitute for direct experience,
and the contribution of people living with the virus is crucial
to the Red Cross Red Crescent. At a time when companies and
corporations around the world are hesitantly tackling the
issue of medical coverage for workers living with HIV/AIDS,
the regional delegation, with Dorothy's help, managed to renegotiate
a better insurance scheme for all its Kenya-based employees
"Today, any colleague who is tested HIV positive has
access, through the delegation's insurance, to adequate treatment
- particularly anti-retroviral drugs which are still quite
expensive for the African people despite some reduction in
prices," says Dorothy.
Official statistics prove Dorothy right. In Kenya only 7,000
people of the 2.5 million affected by HIV and AIDS are currently
on anti-retrovirals. Says Dorothy: "At a national level
we should ideally look at a participation of the state in
sharing the cost of the drug if we are to increase accessibility
Couteau's team is moving ahead with efforts to strengthen
local Red Cross capacities to respond to issues arising from
HIV/AIDS, in particular stigma and discrimination, both inside
the organization and within the community at large.
"We are the example to follow and must ensure that other
colleagues in the eastern African region understand and implement
the policies developed with regard to people living with HIV/AIDS.
Red Cross Red Crescent societies should start looking at employing
focal people, like Dorothy, who could handle and address not
only external but also in-house issues related to HIV/AIDS,"
A concrete example of this effort is the programme "Ambassadors
of Hope". This programme was initiated by NAP+ and supported
by the regional delegation. Currently, it is training people
living with HIV to become role models able to advocate for
the rights of their peers in countries where HIV/AIDS remains
The last training session in Pretoria, South Africa in September,
was also attended by Red Cross staff fromEritrea, Kenya, Rwanda,
Tanzania and Uganda. "Some of them will be sent as Ambassadors
of Hope to the Red Crescent societies of Djibouti, Somalia,
and Sudan," says Couteau.