Salome Simion Makanga’s story is just one example of the rejection and abuse experienced by thousands of women and vulnerable groups after disclosing their HIV status. Once she revealed she was HIV-positive, Salome felt stigmatized not only by her partner, but also by her close relatives, who accused her of bringing HIV into the family.
After a year of humiliation, rejection, and stigmatization, her children chased her out of her home, saying she had brought shame upon the family and that it was too risky to live with her since she could infect them with the virus.
Seeking protection, Salome approached her brother’s family, hoping they would provide the care and support she needed, but that was not the case. She wasn’t welcomed at her brother’s home where she reported facing isolation and abuse before being chased away. These relatives were also afraid she would give them HIV.
Salome decided to live alone in a nearby hut without any support from either family. However, her brother forced her to leave. With nowhere to go, life seemed bleak. Lacking internal peace and hope for the future, Salome became weak and suicidal. She decided to stop taking her HIV medication and avoided her children, relatives, and friends.
Once again without a home, Salome sneaked back to the hut near her brother’s family. When her brother realized she was living there again, he locked her inside for several weeks, saying he hoped she would die and free the family from the shame of having an HIV-positive family member. During this difficult period, Salome thought of calling her friends and speaking to them one last time before she died.
After an unbearable two weeks, Salome called out for help from inside the locked hut. Neighbors heard her and informed local leaders. The local leaders, in turn, contacted staff of TUNAJALI, a comprehensive HIV/AIDS services program funded by USAID through PEPFAR in Tanzania. The TUNAJALI staff then launched efforts to save Salome from her agonizing situation.
Local leaders convened a meeting with Salome’s family. Her brother refused to attend, prompting them to ask the police gender desk, health care representatives, and the local councilor to intervene. Thanks to this intervention, relatives finally started supporting her.
They began taking her to the local dispensary to receive care and treatment, which helped her restart her HIV medication. For the next three months, TUNAJALI staff continued closely monitoring Salome and her family and raising their awareness about the particular sensitivities and needs of a woman living with HIV.
“It really gave me renewed hope and a new lease on life, knowing that there were people who were ready to support and encourage me,” Salome said.
Violence, discrimination, and stigmatization are significant barriers to accessing HIV/AIDS care and treatment support services. TUNAJALI’s gender service provider network calls on all community stakeholders, including local and religious leaders, social and community development officers, police gender desk officers, the media, and health care providers, among others, to raise a voice for the voiceless women and girls who cannot fight for themselves when their rights are violated.
Through creating gender-based violence awareness and networks, TUNAJALI seeks to protect women and children living with HIV against cruelty and violence. These networks provide survivors with the opportunity to report acts of violence and quickly receive referrals to relevant services.
TUNAJALI is implemented by Deloitte Consulting and the Christian Social Services Commission.