A PrEP Ambassador Helps Save a Young Woman’s Life and Marriage

February 22nd, 2019 | Story

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Eighteen-year-old Mercy lives with her young son and husband in a small village on the shores of Uganda’s Lake Victoria. Mercy cares for her family and household, and relies entirely on her husband for money to do so. He is, Mercy notes, “very supportive.”

When Mercy was pregnant and visiting the antenatal clinic, she was counseled about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a medication regime that prevents HIV infection in people who take it regularly. The woman who spoke with Mercy was a PrEP ambassador from PRIYA, a program funded by DREAMS-IC grantee University of Washington.

“It was my first time hearing about the drug,” Mercy recalls, but the woman from PRIYA explained everything and answered all Mercy’s questions, so she agreed to take the next step, which was an HIV test.

After testing negative, the clinic staff told Mercy that she was eligible to initiate PrEP. Mercy agreed because she knew that HIV was common among fisherfolk, and was suffering some trust problems with her husband. She hoped that starting PrEP would reduce her worry about acquiring HIV. This decision just may have saved Mercy’s life.

A few months after she started PrEP, Mercy happened upon antiretroviral drugs in her husband’s trouser pocket as she was ironing. She was “in shock and extremely disappointed,” that her husband had kept this important information from her.

But when she asked her husband about it, he ignored her. She pursued the truth for days until finally he admitted that he was indeed HIV-positive and had been on antiretroviral drugs for the past three years. This meant he had started treatment even before they got married.

Despite her anger at her husband’s life-threatening deception, Mercy decided to stay with her husband, in part because she knows that remaining on PrEP will protect her from infection.

“If I had not met the PRIYA PrEP ambassador, I would be in a very different—and much worse—situation right now,” Mercy says with a wry smile.

For more information, visit https://depts.washington.edu/kenyares/

To learn more about the DREAMS Innovation Challenge, please visit www.dreamspartnership.org

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