U=U life coach

My dear lovely people living with HIV, I am not sure if we all know what U=U means. If not, I am always glad to explain it once again as it is really important to know U=U and how it can help to break the HIV stigma.

If you have an undetectable viral load, it means that you cannot transmit HIV sexually. I believe this information should be known widely as I have come to realize that there are still people out there that lack this information. So, to highlight the impact of U=U I will share two stories of young couples where U=U saved their relationship.

My first story happened in October last year, when I got in touch with a HIV+ American woman with undetectable viral load who follows my HIV stigmafighter facebook page. She fell in love with an African migrant from Senegal and I just finished to share a post about the U=U campaign in French. Immediately she contacted me via messenger and asked me if I could talk to her boyfriend about U=U.

“I can give you truth, information and respect, but I cannot transmit HIV “

I explained U=U to him through this picture in French. He told me that they already had intercourse and that some time after that she told him about her HIV status. At the time he panicked, thinking it would be the end of the world, especially since he recently was tested HIV negative before donating blood. I was quick to comfort him and inform that she could not pass it on to him because she is Undetectable. I recommended him to go back for another test to discover the truth.

A few days later he got in touch with me again and he was very happy and thanked me for guiding him in the whole process. He send me a small message saying “Hello Madam , I want to thank you for your help. I did HIV test and I am negative. I believe now in U=U”. He confirmed that he will keep on loving her and is planning to start a family with her. I now heard from them and learned that soon they are going to get married! What a happy ending!

My second story is about a young African migrant woman living in the Netherlands. I used to be her HIV peer counsellor and during one of our sessions she explained her worries about having children. She was madly in love but she did not want to disclose her status. First of all, I checked if she already knew something about U=U and she told me that she heard about it but did not understand it since she always communicated with health professionals through an interpreter who does not have knowledge on HIV terminologies. So, I explained clearly to her in French what U=U means since this is her preferred language to communicate. I told her that if she really wants to have a baby with her boyfriend, she will have to tell him to make him understand what it means to be undetectable. 

I also stressed to her to use the fact of being undetectable for her own benefit, and that she should ask him to find out about his status as well before sexual intercourse. The reason for this is because if it then so happens that he is HIV+, they will not later on argue about his status. Being open about status and being undetectable will really help him understand that there will not be any danger for him.

After our chat, she went home convinced to be open about it. On the same evening when he approached her romantically she decided to tell him. He accepted her advice and they went to see a doctor together where he also learned more about how he can support her. He also got in touch with me to hear more  about my and other experiences, which made him really excited to start a family with his girlfriend. Two months later she became pregnant and now they have a son that was born HIV negative.

Long live U=U, it saves relationship and helps to break the stigma!

Peace, Eliane

The fight against HIV stigma continues

Dear lovely people,

How are you? Getting ready for the festive season?

We know that Christmas is a time for joy, to remember the past and find hope for the future. To me there is no better way to express my feelings through this special card to all of you:

This year was tough for everyone, we can all agree to that! I AM glad we managed to finish it and that, no matter our difficulties, we remained positive.

May this glorious  message of faith, health, love and peace, fill you with joy during a wonderful Christmas and give you inspiration for a fantastic 2021.

Peace,

HIV stigmafighter

Photo impression – Stop HIV stigma Show

Last Saturday 5 December I organised the “Stop HIV stigma Show” in my hometown, Gihanga, Burundi. I believe that by organising these type of events that one day my dream will come true: To defeat HIV stigma in our community! Here you find an impression of this beautiful day.

Pictures of this day are made courtesy of Ingabire Media and Chouman. Enjoy! Peace, Eliane

Here are a few pictures of the fashion show organised by the lovely people of the Fit Fashion Fire Team:

There was a lot of entertainment as well. Multi-talent Bryere in a traditional outfit playing the igondera, gifted Devie with a beautiful HIV stigmafighter button, the brilliant girls of Amazing Team, a group of awesome visuallly impaired singers from Lycee Kanura Band, a young performer from Fit Fashion Fire Team, and our two enthousiastic MCs Emi-Bravo and Chadou:

 

Then there was lots of important speakers during the event. The co-organiser Irene Kundubumwe, the representative of the network for people living with HIV in Bubanza Province Madame Kanyana Daphrose, national association of young people living with HIV Nshimirimana Salvator and Chantal Mbonankira

And to finish this beautiful photo impression, here you see my Batwa friends posing in front of the banner for the show. These were my real guests of honour and had a well deserved frontrow seat during this amazing day in Gihanga. Mwarakoze!

Let’s get back on track!

It is 1 December, WORLD AIDS DAY, and this year’s theme is “Global solidarity, resilient services”.

The world has known a rough year because of covid-19. And this has sometimes made us forget about the fight to end HIV and AIDS by 2030. I would like to take this moment to bring our fight back to the communities that need access to health services most, for example our Batwa, indigenous people in Burundi.

I cherish these moments of HIV education, using music and dance to connect and make important messages very easy to remember.

Let’s reach out to vulnerable populations and assist them to access HIV services when needed, and get back on track to end AIDS by 2030.

Peace, Eliane

18 years in 18 moments

This week I ‘hacked’ the #hiv2020online instagram account for 24 hours. I decided to share my 18 years journey of living with HIV in 18 posts on their storyline. Here you see 2 of them and soon you will see more.

Using the power of Instagram, I shared 18 pictures of moments that meant a lot to me. Pictures are very powerful: They keep our memories intact, they are reminders of what happened, and they can trigger emotions. But most importantly they tell me why I must keep fighting HIV stigma.

So telling my 18 years HIV journey via Instagram storyline was a challenge as I relived sadness, but also joy and empowerment in my fight against HIV Stigma.

Now that I have 18 defining pictures of my life with HIV so far, I see more clearly that my efforts have not been in vain! I rediscovered my Joy and my Talents in life, and my dream for my next 18 years with HIV is to realise a World free from HIV stigma and AIDS deaths -related. It is possible!

Let’s fight together with Love and compassion!

Peace,

Eliane

Rollercoaster

Dear specialists of all my fabulous diseases,

My life has been quite a roller-coaster the past weeks, so in this blog I would like to express myself and share what I have learned.

The problem started 5 years ago when I developed pain in my chest and I was given anti blood clotting medication by my GP. Then, the cardiologist told me to stop it because, according to her, my heart was healthy and it was because of the stress of losing my brother. I stopped and a week later on my way to London for holidays I got a heart attack at Antwerp station on 3 August 2015. In the Hospital in Antwerp they did a lot exams and told me it was caused by a blood clot. So they put me back on medication and the pain in my chest was gone. I lived without fear of having a heart attack. 

Last year during the summer of 2019 I started having heavy menstruation and it went on for 3 weeks non-stop. I even collapsed during a flight back from holidays and ended up at the emergency room at Schiphol. A place where by the way I was mistreated by the medical staff the moment I told them my HIV status. They accused me of putting in danger other people’s life in the plane because of my bleeding and I was supposed to stay away from travel until it was over.

But the bleeding simply did not stop, so I went to my own hospital where I was told I had a fibroid in my uterus. Keeping me on the same medication I continued bleeding heavily every month. But at some stage I lacked so much blood that I ended  up in hospital for a blood transfusion at the beginning of 2020. Still, no changes to my medication.

Then, in March this year I visited my cardiologist and he told me that I didn’t need to visit anymore for regular check-ups, only to see the GP four times a year to check my blood pressure. He sent a letter to my GP with an updated medication list, including the anti blood clotting medication. By then I already told my gynaecologist my family history of my two sisters who had the same problem. She told me that if the bleeding did not stop, that my last option, after trying a new anti-conception called mirena, they would consider removing my uterus. My heavy bleeding never stopped since it started so it became a chronic problem to me. And so I survived through most of the summer.

Three weeks ago is where the communication problem seriously started. As the bleeding continued, I was now anxious to hear the gynaecologist’s plan to solve my bleeding problem. Knowing what she told me before about removing my uterus, I was in shock when she said ”Madam, there is no need to remove your uterus now that Mirena does not work with you, and you can stop the anti blood clotting medication. After that we will see how things will be going without those two“.

I was in shock to hear I had to stop my anti blood clotting medication. I immediately recalled what happened 5 years ago. So I asked why should I stop it and she said that she had a discussion with the cardiologist and they concluded that I never really needed it. To me it was so tough to hear from the gynaecologist to tell me to stop medication that I have taken for so long. To me, this seemed just for the purpose of solving my bleeding without really considering my complicated story of heart failure and family history.

And since she informed me at the end of a Friday afternoon there was nothing I could do anymore but to stop the medication at that moment. So you can imagine how scary this idea was for the whole weekend. Meanwhile my pain was killing me and I could not wait to call my GP on the next Monday. And here came another surprise… My GP was not informed by the hospital for me to stop the anti blood clotting medication, she did not receive any update from the cardiologist or gynaecologist at all. So there was no way for her to tell if it was good or not and she advised me to call the cardiologist for him to explain.

So now I tried to reach the hospital to speak to my cardiologist. They said this was not possible as he was on a holiday, so they gave me an appointment for a telephone consultation for 2 weeks later. Can you imagine? Me having urgent questions about why my heart medication was stopped and having to wait for so long? I was angry, felt stressful and had panic attacks in the night. My pain was unbearable. So desperately I approached my pharmacist and she called the hospital to find out how long I would stop. The answer she got was the same, “Stop it, she never needed it”. To me I could not understand why the cardiologist never told me himself in march this year when I visited him, and suddenly my gynaecologist  is taking charge of these two diseases?

So, the last 3 weeks I have been calling medical professionals every single day; Two specialists, my GP, and my pharmacist. So often I could not reach them and they would promise to call me back. I was always holding my phone in my hands as I feared missing a call. And so often they didn’t call back at all on the date agreed. Every day I have been crying, scared in the night, and I don’t trust myself anymore when it comes to living my life…

So, where do I stand right now? By now I learned from the cardiologist that the gynaecologist urged him to stop my medication, but that he would have preferred me to stay on the medication to reduce the risk of a heart attack if there were no problems with my bleeding. Meanwhile, the gynaecologist still does not have an alternative, and told me that I have to make a very strong case (myself!) for her to take out my uterus. So I still don’t know what is going to happen.

Dear specialists, I know that each of you is doing a good job for the benefit of your patients. But I would like to ask you to communicate better between yourselves and do so on time. And please keep my GP informed at all times! More importantly, you are dealing with a human being, so make sure you explain very clearly what is going on. And  please listen to the concerns of a patient without ignoring  his or her family history. The pain I went (and still am going) through I do not wish to any other patient.

Together we are strong! Work together for the sake of a patient with multiple diseases.

Thank you

Peace ,

Eliane

Stigma at times of COVID-19

Before we even heard of COVID-19, people living with HIV or AIDS were already facing stigma and discrimination as I experienced and shared with you regularly with healthcare providers throughout the years. Many more people started facing stigma when COVID-19 came along in many ways, and this made things for people living with HIV or AIDS even worse.

I would like to share my experience during this period and how I overcame the stigma and help the healthcare provider to open up her eyes and take into account what her actions can mean for others. In January I needed to do a CT scan and they happened to find a something on one of my lungs. For my entire life I never had to see a pulmonologist (lung doctor) before, so on 12 February I met one for the first time.

I was nervous and curious the same time. I am used to visit hospitals for many checks up and doctors always welcomed me through a hand shake. It was at a time when in the Netherlands there were no rules yet on how to behave in these different times. So we all still went about our business as usual and every doctor I met was still shaking hands. So I had quite a big expectation of warm greetings from this doctor since it was our first meeting.

When I gave my hand, she rejected me by saying “Oh no no, I don’t shake your hands, there are many viruses around. I don’t dare to be infected!“ I immediately felt confused and started thinking and asking myself what she meant by many viruses? I don’t have Corona, I don’t have flu, the only virus I have is my HIV. Since she read my medical file she knew what kind of virus I have. So this made me start doubting her words. Why would she talk to me as if I am very dangerous to her? Did she mean that my virus would jump to her by shaking hands? I really needed to find the reason behind her behaviour.

A week later some hospitals started introducing information on not shaking hands. But there was still not yet a strong medical protocol in place. So I went back to see my HIV Doctor, and this was also a new person as my previous doctor had left recently. So on 28 February I met her for the first time, and I was not expecting to shake hands. But, when she introduced herself, she said “Hello, I am not suppose to shake hands but since this is our first meeting I make an exception and I feel comfortable about it”. This is when I explained my experience with the lung doctor and how hurt I felt. So, she advised me to better talk to her again.

Afterwards, this whole episode with the lung doctor kept on playing in my mind; how she did not show empathy during our conversation, and how she also failed to really answer any questions on the diagnosis. I went completely crazy, and I decide to see my GP first to explain the results of the scan better to me. My GP explained very clearly and then I shared with her how I felt about the lung doctor, and she also advised me to go back and talk.

I waited until May, and I finally got an appointment this week. I was very calm, and not angry but curious. I told her that the main reason I came back was to talk to her how I felt last time we met. I asked her what she meant by saying “Many viruses”. I explained that by the time we met I did have only one virus, HIV. That sometimes I get discriminated in hospital because of that. She was completely in shock and said “I am sorry I meant to say flu, corona virus, not HIV”. then I said “Well, you should have been specific, because telling somebody with the HIV virus that you don’t shake hands because of many viruses, from experience I immediately understood that you meant HIV virus since I did not have corona, or flu”. She said 5 times sorry, “I am sorry I was not aware that people can get it wrong when I say virus. But you are right, I should have said flu or corona”.

I explained that we often face stigma as some people still believe they can get HIV virus by shaking hands, that what she said really bothered me. But that I did not want to accept this, and I needed to find out what she meant. She thanked me and said “You are a strong woman to come back and talk about this with me, you taught me a lot and I am going to use it with the next patients”. I told her that I did not do it for myself, I want to prevent this from happening to other patients like me. Not everyone will dare to challenge a doctor on this, especially my Africans migrants. And they will go home and feel bad, confused and get depressed by this. But I choose to clear my path before I move on. I need us to be clear and make sure we understand each other.

An important lesson learnt for her is that language matters. I am sure next time she will take into account which words to use when communicating with patients like me so then they don’t feel offended!

Peace, Eliane

HIV medication exchange

I would like to share an article (in Dutch) published on 9 Jaunary in the magazine Hello Gorgeous. It is about a topic that I am really passionate about: Ensuring that unused HIV medication, still in its original packaging and meant to be destroyed here in the Netherlands, reaches people with HIV in places where there is still no access to life-saving medication. In the text below you will find the translated text in English:

Ready to be sent to people without HIV medication in Romania

Hello Gorgeous: “How did you get this idea to collect HIV medication for Romania?” Eliane: “Last year I met a Romanian woman during a meeting of the European AIDS Treatment Group in Brussels. She was looking for people who wanted to donate their HIV medication to pregnant women with HIV. We became friends on Facebook and kept in touch. When she told me that these women are regularly without HIV medication, I was heart-broken. Without HIV medication they risk their children being born with HIV. I don’t understand this is still possible in Europe. “

Hello Gorgeous: “What are you doing to tackle this?” Eliane: “I am continuously asking people in my network, via messages and emails, if they have any medication left. Often, this happens when people switch medication, then they are left with unused medication. I collect this, compare it with a list I get from my contact in Romania, and then I send the required medication to Romania. It hurts me, to see we are so committed to climate action, for example by recycling, but that we are still throwing away perfect medication which can save lives elsewhere. This only happens because our rules are such that medication prescribed for one person cannot be transferred to someone else.”

Hello Gorgeous: “Have you also approached pharmacies to help you?”. Eliane: “Certainly, I talked to a number of pharmacists here in Amersfoort. They told me that they used to collect medication in the past but that this ended when health authorities required them to stop this. I always tell them to give it to me secretly. It is so difficult to accept that unused medication is destroyed while we can find a purpose for it. Meanwhile, we still worry about someone dying every 40 seconds of the effects of AIDS due to a lack of access to medication.”

Hello Gorgeous: “What can people do if they want to send you their unused HIV medication?” Eliane: “If people switch their HIV medication and still have unused supplies at home, they can contact me. Send me a message via hivstigmafighter@gmail.com and you will hear from me.”

This message gives me courage to continue HIV medication exchange

Hello Gorgeous, thank you so much for publishing this article. Already I have been approached by people, asking me how to send their left-over medication to me. Many people living with HIV in Romania will forever be grateful to you.

I really hope to expand this project in 2020, so more people with HIV in Romania or elsewhere in this world can continue using life-saving HIV medication even.

Peace, Eliane

Be my messenger

Dear Santa,

I wanted to ask you a favour for this Christmas season. As a woman living with HIV for 17 years I am grateful to live. I look at the future positively. Only sometimes I fall back when I experience stigma with health care providers or when I hear that in some places pregnant women have no access to HIV medication for themselves and their yet to be born children.

It hurts to hear that in so many places there are still pregnant women who do not have access to life saving medication. We should no longer have children born with HIV. So last week when I organized a Meet & Greet at the pink statue of the Crying Woman here in Amersfoort, my purpose was to get an impression how people were touched by the message behind the statue and to hear their thoughts on issues such as access to medication for all, especially pregnant women.

The understanding of the people I met and their support for the issues I raised, especially fighting for universal HIV medication access for pregnant women, was overwhelming. So I asked people to help spread my messages. Some even wrote and shared their own messages:

I am very grateful for the support I received that day. It shows that people finally understand how hard it is to live without having access to medication and fear that your baby risks to be born with a preventable condition.

The Meet & Greet gave me a lot of courage to keep fighting in 2020. Dear Santa, when you give presents tonight, I want to ask you to include these messages to everyone .I know you can reach so many people in one night, including the decision-makers. Let’s see the positive change in 2020.

I wish everyone a merry Christmas and am positively looking forward to 2020.

Peace,

Eliane.

De volgende generatie

Ik blijf me steeds beter voelen sinds ik open sta over mijn hiv voor mijn kinderen. Zaterdag was ik uitgenodigd voor HIV-positieve vrouwenactiviteiten in Sittard. Moeders mochten hun kinderen meenemen. Ik dacht dat het iets zou zijn voor heel jonge kinderen van 0 tot 8. Ik vroeg of het oke was om mijn jongste zoon van 10 te brengen. Natuurlijk is hij welkom, was het het antwoord. Dus was het mijn beurt om met mijn zoon Akira te overleggen of hij geïnteresseerd was om met mij mee te doen.

Hij had 3 keuzes:

  • De eerst was om met zijn grote broer Rio en zijn vader om te gaan trainen in de Lage Zwaluwe
  • De tweede keuze was om te gaan spelen met zijn vriend
  • En de derde was om zich bij mama aan te sluiten bij de hiv-activiteiten voor vrouwen.

Raad eens wat hij koos? Hij wilde met mij meegaan. Ik vroeg hem of hij zeker is om naar Sittard te gaan, 2 uur in een trein te zitten en deel te nemen aan de buikdans. Zijn antwoord was: “Mama, ik wil je ondersteunen bij veel dingen die je doet met het bestrijden van stigma. Ik schaam me niet dat ik in het openbaar om je heen ben, jij bent mijn moeder en mijn mooiste en moedigste moeder die ik ooit heb gezien in mijn hele leven “.

Nou niet dat hij heel oud is … slechts 10 jaar. Maar dit bracht tranen op mijn wangen. Toen vroeg hij: “Mam, ben je aan het huilen? Heb ik iets verdrietigs gezegd of heb ik je beledigd? “Ik zei:” nee mijn liefste, dit zijn tranen van vreugde “. Ik weet dat alle energie die ik in dit gevecht stop niet voor niets zal zijn, want zelfs als ik niet in staat zal zijn om verder te gaan, zal je oppakken wat er nog over was.

Dus gingen we met onze trein naar Sittard. We hebben geweldige mensen ontmoet, ik had een leuk gesprek.  Sommige vrouwen kenden me alleen via mijn Facebook-positieve berichten. Sommigen hadden mijn verhalen gelezen op Hello gorgeous en waren zo blij om elkaar persoonlijk te ontmoeten. Dus omhelsden we elkaar en lachten we samen. Wat gebeurde er met mijn zoon Akira?

Wel, hij heeft al 3 kinderen ontmoet die hij kende tijdens het Positive Kids Family weekend. Dus ze waren samen aan het spelen, en soms kwam hij langs en gaf me dat ‘ik hou van je moeder kus’ en ik zou hem en andere kinderen horen piano spelen.

Ik was opgewonden om de buikdans te doen. Het is iets heel anders dan de Afrikaanse dans die ik als een professionele danser gewend ben te doen. Ik keek ernaar uit om het samen met positieve vrouwen te leren en contact te maken zoals ik altijd doe wanneer ik dans.

Wat een geweldige dag, ik heb genoten van elke minuut. De kinderen waren net als hun moeders gekleed in een buikdansuitrusting. Ik dacht dat Akira misschien niet mee zou doen of de outfit zou aantrekken. Het bleek dat hij er veel plezier mee had. Hij vindt het leuk om te dansen, denk ik, iets dat hij van mij heeft geërft. Hahahaha.

20180909_1517181291279715.jpg
We hebben een leuke tijd samen gehad. Na de dans aten lekkere oosterse hapjes en toen gingen we naar huis.

Tot nu toe heb ik er geen spijt van mijn kinderen over mijn hiv-status te hebben verteld of Akira met mij in de vrouwengroep te laten doen, omdat ik geloof dat wanneer we de jonge generatie sterker maken we een kans hebben om het hiv-stigma te bestrijden en infecties te verminderen.

Eliane