“I love the fact that she always reminds us that HIV does not define us, and that we are bigger than our statuses.”
It is for this reason, amongst many, that Celine believes that Hulda Odero is a Health Provider Champion.
Hailing from Homabay, Kenya, Celine is an adolescent woman living with HIV. She has five brothers.
“I am the only child with HIV in our family, so it made it difficult for me to accept my status. None of my brothers have HIV, so it was not an easy task taking my medicine in front of them,” she says.
On top of the stigma associated with ART, Celine experienced discomfit from many corners of her world. Living with HIV embarrassed and made her feel different to others as a teenager and caused her to build up barriers to adherence. An example of this was in school holidays, when Celine lived with her aunt and cousins, and felt too exposed and uncomfortable to take her medication in front of them.
“Hulda always assists me and reassures me of confidentiality. I know she will be there for me in case I needed to talk to someone. She was able to help me identify my barriers to adherence, and we were able to create strategies which helped me to address the barriers and implement daily routines. This makes me happy because I now know that I am healthy and that I will live longer by adhering to my schedules,” Celine says.
Hulda Odero has been working with people living with HIV for over 3 years now after finishing her studies in Bachelors of Arts and Social Sciences in Community Development, and later studied Adherence Counselling.
“All my life I wanted to impact someone positively. When I got this job for the first time, I realised that it would give me a platform to help kids and adults and focus on my objective; to make a difference in someone’s life,” Hulda says.
When Hulda started her profession as an adherence counsellor, she didn’t realise just how much the stigma of living with HIV impacted on people’s lives.
“When you are in class or in your course, you are just being taught skills. But stigma is a real thing. I used to see patients come into the clinic for a health talk or something similar, but as soon as they saw a neighbour or friend, they would pretend they were there for something else and leave the clinic. That is just one example, but I have many.”
Hulda also believes that a large issue is within the schooling system. Adolescents living with HIV are often passed up for leadership opportunities, treated poorly, ostracised, and ignored outright by their teachers.
So how does Hulda break down the stigma barrier and stand up to stigma?
“I realised that there are many challenges around stigma, including us as health providers. We are capable of negatively affecting our patients just as much as anyone. I decided we needed a ‘continuous medical education’ and awareness raising on stigma, to teach us all to really reflect more, think more and change our own attitudes and behaviours. I am happy that my fellow health providers are learning and adopting the change. It is a process, but we are all trying.”
On top of the education system within her own facility, Hulda has recognised that she cannot reach every area within her community. Instead, Hulda has educated and empowered the community health providers, always motivating and encouraging them to treat everyone equally. Hulda makes sure to share her teachings at every opportunity, continuously reminding patients and health providers to remove negativity, to focus on the positive and feel empowered while living with HIV.
When asked about any wisdom that Hulda has imparted, Celine had the following to say.
“The most valuable lesson Hulda has taught me is that it is important to start treatment early when you are confirmed to be living with HIV. You must keep all the medical appointments, take your ARVs daily and as prescribed, and this will help you live a longer, healthier life.”
Celine has nominated Hulda for her tireless work in their community.
“Hulda is unique because she accommodates all of us. She has passion and the ability to inspire us, and we all strive to follow her guidance to live positively. She loves her job and is committed always giving us attention and time on our clinic days. Despite a busy schedule, she gives us the freedom to see her whenever we have challenges, talks to us about them, and listens without judging. Personally, I find her trustworthy because she handles my issues with a lot of confidentiality and I have never heard her share my problems with my peers,” says Celine.
Hulda accepts her nomination with a large smile.
“I feel happy, and I feel privileged. Being nominated makes me know that I have helped someone move from point A to point B, and even if it is only one or two people, that is big for me. However, I wish for more. I wish that one day we would see on the news that around the world, not just Kenya, but around the world, people are living stigma-free. My prayer is that one day, new infections are not even there.”