Few stories exemplify the purpose and the promise of PEPFAR as clearly as that of Joyline, whose encounter with the program has caused ripples through her life that have grown to touch her family and community.
Joyline became infected with HIV perinatally and was orphaned when her parents, a teacher and a nurse, died of AIDS without access to treatment. Joyline’s grandmothers took over her care, but her declining health forced her to drop out of school in third grade.
Dr. Fred Sawe, Deputy Director of Kenya Medical Research Institute/Walter Reed Project (HJFMRI), recalls that when he first met Joyline in 2004, she was 10 years old and weighed less than 25 pounds, so weak she could couldn’t support her own head. Joyline became the first pediatric patient in to receive treatment through PEPFAR-supported services implemented by MHRP and its partners in Kenya.
After hospital treatment, “Joyline would travel two days to come pick up her antiretroviral drugs and another two days to go back to her village,” said Dr. Sawe. “We gradually saw her dress get shorter between visits as she grew bigger and healthier.” Joyline was eventually able to return to school and graduate from high school. She earned a college certificate in community health worker and now works in a hospital helping prevent transmission of HIV from pregnant mothers to their babies.
Joyline herself is now 26 years old, and she and her husband recently welcomed a son, who was born without HIV. With the help of PEPFAR, Joyline’s diagnosis and ongoing access and adherence to treatment enabled her to break a cycle of illness and orphanhood to help usher in a new HIV-free generation.
“It used to be that an HIV diagnosis was a death sentence that created a lot of despair,” said Dr. Sawe. “PEPFAR has been able to turn that problem upside down, so now a positive diagnosis is a mark of life, enabling people to get help and treatment. It’s transformed lives and communities in Africa.”
PEPFAR, or the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, has helped save the lives of countless people suffering from HIV/AIDS by providing HIV prevention and treatment services around the world since its inception in 2003. MHRP’s engagement with PEPFAR began in 2004 under then-director Dr. Deborah Birx as a way to help ensure access to care in communities where research is conducted. Today, MHRP provides lifesaving antiretroviral treatment to more than 350,000 people and implements an array of interventions in four countries in Africa.