Sarafina’s Story: An Exceptional HIV Counseling and Testing Provider in Namibia

Ms. Sarafina Kafunga, an outstanding HIV testing and counseling provider at Ohangewena Clinic in northern Namibia.

In 1992, Ms. Sarafina Kafungu received news that would change her life: she was HIV positive. However, it took her a while to accept that fact. “I was in denial for eight years. I told people lies, told them I had skin problems, not HIV,” she remembers. “I suffered because I didn’t have information about HIV, but honestly, I did not want any information.” Then, one day, a woman from her church approached her. “I was very sick at that point. She told me to get up from my bed, to ask for forgiveness, to tell the truth. That day I told my mother, who was taking care of me, and I began telling people who would come visit me about my HIV status.”

In 2002, Sarafina moved to a different region in Namibia to join a support group for people living with HIV/AIDS. The following year she started treatment for HIV, while raising her two children, now ages 23 and 27, who are both HIV negative. “It was difficult for me to adhere to the medicine when I first started, when the side effects began altering my body. Now it’s easy, part of my daily routine. I’m my own treatment supporter.”

An advocate for living positively
Given her own experiences with HIV, Sarafina decided she wanted to help others living with the disease. Since 2005, she has worked as a CDC-supported HIV counseling and testing provider at Ohangwena Clinic. With her bright eyes and warm smile, she welcomes up to 200 clients per month to her small testing room. She uses her story as a model for others, particularly those who receive positive test results. “I have the ability and desire to help people understand their status, to explain to them that even though you may be HIV positive your life is not over.”

As someone who suffered for years due to a lack of information, Sarafina works hard to educate her clients. “Many people died because of fear, shame, or ignorance,” she says. ”Even those who discriminate against people living with HIV do so because of ignorance. The more I talk with people, the more they understand about HIV.”One of the reasons she encourages her clients to disclose their HIV status is because it no longer carries the same negative association. “Our community is 99% free of stigma and discrimination,” she declares proudly. “When we used to feel discriminated against we would explain to people that ‘HIV may be with me today but it could be with you tomorrow’ and that made people stop and think.” She also credits the Government of the Republic of Namibia (GRN) for reducing stigma, since the GRN made a concerted effort to mobilize people for testing, care, and treatment early in the epidemic.

Focusing on the children
Today, Sarafina’s focus is on the country’s children. “My heart aches for the babies born with HIV whose parents aren’t getting them treatment. We need to explain that children are important people, they have rights, and they cannot be replaced. Some people give up on their children, thinking they will not grow up well. But I know children born with HIV who are graduating from the University of Namibia and taking care of their parents. I tell women not to abuse or neglect their children but, instead, bring them to the hospital for treatment, give them food and their medicine on time. If you do that they will grow up to be smart and strong.”

Looking back on her life, Sarafina sums it up simply, “I have saved lives and souls with my story and my work.”

Date: 2014