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A Single Father’s Story of Love and Loss

Henry and his son, Richard, sit next to each other after Henry’s appointment at Alive Medical Services.

Henry’s wife passed away 25 years ago, but looking at him now, you’d think it happened yesterday. His body stiffens as he talks about her, pausing every so often to extract himself from the memories passing through his head.

“We didn’t know until it was too late,” Henry said. “And after she passed, everything changed.”

Back in 1993, Henry had barely realized what happened until his wife was gone. Henry contracted HIV from another partner and unknowingly passed it along to his wife. After she died, Henry was left to care for four children and his elderly mother, all the while battling HIV himself.

At the time, HIV was severely stigmatized in his community, making it difficult for Henry to openly seek help and treatment.

Henry would walk from health clinic to health clinic attempting to find antiretroviral medication. More often than not, he’d reach the pharmacy counter just to be turned away. It seemed that there were never enough antiretrovirals for everyone suffering, causing Henry’s health – and the wellbeing of his family – to drastically decline.

“I was so depressed during those years,” Henry said. “It was hard to get medication, and it was frustrating to have nowhere to go for help.”

Poor health, guilt and depression began to consume Henry, making it nearly impossible to work, feed his family, and gather the strength to keep on living. When he and his youngest son, Richard, came down with tuberculosis, they could barely afford the medication they needed to stay alive.

Eventually, a friend referred Henry to Alive Medical Services, a small clinic that had just opened up near Henry’s house. He has remained an active client ever since, returning again and again for treatment over the last 10 years.

“Without Alive, I wouldn’t have made it,” Henry said. “I’m healthier now than I’ve ever been, not just because I get free ARVs, but because I get free treatment of opportunistic infections too.”

After his health stabilized, Henry was able to recommit himself to his children, all of whom are HIV negative. Henry worked constantly to earn enough money for school fees. Because of that, his first three children now have families of their own – and his youngest son, Richard, just recently finished his degree. Richard now works as an electrician, and routinely accompanies his father to the clinic for check-ups.

“The counsellors at Alive helped me be strong for my children,” Henry said. “For any single fathers dealing with the same situation, I’d tell them this: push hard for your children.”

Thinking of his past, Henry recognized that often, men avoid HIV clinics. They don’t want to be seen there, he said, but they need to be more open to the idea.

“There’s nothing wrong with getting tested and treated,” Henry said. “It keeps you alive. Today, I’m proud to tell my story and show people how I’ve survived.”

Meet Janipher, an Administrative Assistant at AMS

For many, getting tested for HIV can seem like an impossible experience. There’s the fear of diagnosis, of course, but also the fear of being seen: if you’re spotted at an HIV clinic, you could be associated with a virus stigmatized by most of the world.

Such perceptions shape the course of Janipher’s days. Often, she is the first person a client sees upon entering Alive Medical Services (AMS). As part of the front desk department, Janipher works with three other colleagues to receive hundreds of people every day. The team helps clients feel comfortable and cared for throughout their time at the clinic, decreasing waiting time and delays.

“I work with clients of all different characters, colors and classes,” Janipher said. “My job is to show everyone they are welcome no matter who they are, and to help them get the care they need.”

Such inclusiveness is important to Janipher. When she was just a young girl, her father passed away unexpectedly, leaving Janipher and her six siblings without a home. His land was seized and sold, but finally, Janipher’s aunt took her in as the 14th child in her family.

With a family so large, it was only through hard work that Janipher was able to make it through school.

“Life wasn’t easy, but I worked hard,” Janipher said. “I was one of the best students at my university. Because of that, they paid for half of my tuition.”

For the past three years, Janipher has worked as an administrative assistant at AMS. She has overcome the struggles from her childhood — but they have also helped Janipher empathize with patients when they are going through a difficult time.

Monday through Saturday, Janipher receives clients, updates patient information, and keeps records. She also enrolls new clients into the system if they test positive for HIV.

“Every client passes through our hands,” Janipher said. “We monitor every step of their visit to the clinic, and make sure things are running smoothly.”

Since she began working at AMS in 2014, Janipher has watched the clinic’s client load rapidly expand in size: today, the front desk team attends to an average of 170 to 250 clients each day. By greeting each one of those clients with warmth, Janipher helps patients feel at ease at AMS, facilitating their return in the future.

“When clients first come in, they often seem hopeless,” Janipher said. “Our department smiles so we can keep them optimistic.”

Food, Education and Hope: The Nutrition Program at AMS

Twice a month, food is laid outside the doors of AMS. As the clinic swells with patients, doctors walk from left to right, spreading nutrition information. One by one, AMS’ community health workers call out clients’ names, all of whom have been previously measured for severe food insecurity. After nurses assess their health status, each client receives seven kilograms of rice, seven kilograms of beans, two kilograms of sugar, and a bag of fresh vegetables.

One of those clients is Esther, a 35-year-old HIV-positive mother and a patient at AMS. Esther’s partner left her a year ago, making it nearly impossible to juggle her job – selling roasted meat alongside the roads of Kampala – with the care of her one-month-old baby, Sharidah, and two other children.

Without her partner’s support, Esther’s income dwindled; she could no longer afford to eat properly. Her breastmilk began to run out, causing Sharidah to lose weight drastically and rapidly.

“At one point, my children would wake up every morning with no food on the table,” Esther said. “Sharidah was so weak, and so was I. I didn’t know what to do.”

On her next visit, AMS staff took note of Sharidah’s weight loss. AMS enrolled the family in AMS’ food program, and started the baby on food aid. At the same time, AMS educated Esther on proper infant feeding practices.

In the four months since then, Sharidah’s health has greatly improved: she’s gained nearly four kilograms, and smiles and laughs easily. She’s even built up enough strength to stand and walk on her own.

Once Sharidah’s weight stabilizes, AMS will phase the family out of the food program. Regardless, we will continue to support them through other initiatives. AMS engages more than 300 HIV positive clients in our gardening program, for example, which is made up of 18 different clubs. By teaching clients how to plant, grow, harvest and sell their own crops, we help clients raise their incomes (and eat healthy food) in a sustainable way.

“Because of AMS, I have high hopes for the future,” Esther said. “HIV – and my other challenges – cannot bring me down.”

One Virus, Two Lives: Mary’s Story of Strength

In 2013, Mary came to Alive Medical Services for a check-up. She had a fever and was hoping to see a doctor, receive some medicine, and head back home. Mary thought she only had a passing illness, but just to be safe, she decided to be tested for a number of viruses anyway.

When the doctor returned with Mary’s results, he told her something she would never have imagined: Mary, though married for years to the same person, was HIV positive.

“I was in such a bad state,” Mary said. “I just came into the clinic to get checked for a fever, and then I found out I had HIV.”

Terrified her husband would blame her for the illness, she didn’t say a thing until he developed a rash on his arms. Mary insisted he get tested for HIV, and when her husband came home with a positive diagnosis, he told her the truth. He had cheated on Mary with an HIV positive woman.

At that point, Mary found out she was pregnant with their third child, the first to be conceived after Mary realized her positive diagnosis. She hurried to AMS as soon as she found out she was expecting.

“The doctors helped me maintain good adherence throughout the pregnancy, following up with me as the months went by,” Mary said.

Within months, Mary’s husband left her for someone else. Regardless of his repeated deceit, Mary stayed strong. She kept up with her medication, came to the clinic for frequent check-ups, and focused on delivering a healthy, HIV negative baby.

After nine months of pre-natal care at AMS, and a year-and-a-half of check-ups post-birth, AMS doctors confirmed Mary’s daughter – Lillian – was HIV negative.

Today, Lillian is nearly 2 years old. Mary is in good health, and continues to come to AMS for her antiretroviral medication and regular check-ins. In addition, her family receives treatment of other infections – opportunistic or otherwise – free of charge.

“At first, I was so worried about having HIV,” Mary said. “But today, I’m okay. I’ve accepted it. And I’m well aware that if I take my medication well, I’ll continue to live.”

Meet Beatrice, the Head of Nursing at AMS

Ever since she could remember, Beatrice wanted to be a nurse.

“I saw a lot of suffering around me,” she said. “Even at a young age, I wanted to learn how to help.”

Beatrice loved connecting with people, and she admired the way nurses cared for their patients – not only delivering essential medical care, but providing emotional support alongside it. To achieve her dreams, Beatrice was trained as both a nurse and a midwife, and moved to Kampala after getting married in 2000. Soon after, Beatrice began working as a midwife for a Bukasa-based medical center.

Today, Beatrice is the head of Alive Medical Services’ (AMS) nursing department. She was one of the first staff members at AMS, joining the team when the clinic opened in 2007. At that time, AMS had just one building and six patients, but her friendship with AMS founder Dr. Pasquine cemented her trust in the organization. In the decade since, Beatrice has had a front-row seat of AMS’ expansion: she watched one building turn into three, and six patients turn into more than 13,000.

“I love what I do,” Beatrice said. “I understand the clients and I take pride in helping them. I encourage them, and try to provide them with the support they need to keep on living.”

When she first began working at AMS, Beatrice conducted deliveries as a midwife. Over time, AMS has shifted its activities to focus on pre- and post-natal care, supporting mothers not only as they prepare for delivery, but as they continue caring for their children years after. To ensure safe births, we provide pregnant mothers with referrals to trusted hospitals, and continue following up with mothers throughout their children’s lives.

As head of AMS’ nursing department, Beatrice sees over a team of four, whose responsibilities are vast and varied. Nurses work with patients immediately upon their arrival to the clinic, taking their vital signs and measurements, and recording their data for the doctors. They also administer patients’ treatment, check on those in the inpatient wards, deliver health education sessions, and provide family planning services, among other essential activities. Beatrice is also in charge of AMS’ stock; in this role, she monitors all medicine moving in and out of the clinic.

“It feels good to help people,” Beatrice said. “And the impact we make feels important.”

More Than Just Medicine: One Youth’s Story of Growth at AMS

Growing up, Anthony had always been sick. His mother took him to clinics, hospitals and health-care centers all over Kampala, but it wasn’t until age 10 that Anthony’s mother revealed the reason behind those visits. Anthony was HIV-positive, a concept he could barely understand and barely believe.

“I kept asking myself, how could this happen to me?” Anthony said. “Where did I get this virus?”

Dealing with an HIV-positive status at any age is difficult – but at age 10, it can be absolutely unbearable. After years of searching for the right clinic, Anthony and his mother, who was also HIV-positive, started receiving care at Alive Medical Services (AMS). Anthony began attended counselling sessions with AMS staff, and soon joined the Victor’s Club, a youth-led support group for children age 11-24.


Now age 22, Anthony remains an AMS client. The support he’s received from AMS has been critical, Anthony said, particularly after his mom passed away. The Victor’s Club has provided a platform for Anthony to de-stress, receive advice, and grow a support system of peers and other HIV-positive youth.

“AMS has really provided great support to me and my family,” Anthony said. “After my mom died, I was left to care for my two siblings. AMS provided us with food support when times were hard.”

This past year, Anthony also engaged in a music therapy project through a partnership with AMS and Musicians without Borders. Anthony, who had always loved drumming, received technical drum training. He also participated in sessions to build leadership skills and boost confidence. Twice a month on Saturday mornings, Anthony taught HIV-positive children how to drum, dance and sing, an activity that helped him build his self-confidence and patience. He grew to love attending the sessions and interacting with children, as it was not only fun, but rewarding. After the program ended, Anthony and his friends continued making music by forming a band and recording their songs.

“Through that program, I realized I really enjoy working with kids,” Anthony said. “I think it’s my calling.”