Christopher’s Story: From the Throes of Death to Caring for Others with HIV in Nigeria
In 2005, Christopher Leo, living with HIV and very sick with severe arthritis, was admitted to the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital in Gwagwalada, Federal Capitol Territory (FCT), Nigeria. Christopher’s wife had recently died of AIDS, leaving behind two children for him to care for. His family believed that he would not live, so they planned to take him to his village, Sabon Gida in Kaduna State, to say goodbye.
Christopher started receiving HIV medications at the teaching hospital which is supported by the Institute of Human Virology Nigeria (IHVN) through funds from PEPFAR via the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He survived.
“I started taking the drugs and I discovered that within months, I became very strong. Before I knew it, the weakness I had because of arthritis left,” he said. “I discovered that this drug made me better, so, I won’t play with it.”
Christopher is doing well and now works as a Treatment Support Specialist at the same hospital where he was once a patient, interacting with other people living with HIV who are accessing treatment. He openly discloses his status and encourages his peers to adhere to treatment and live positively with HIV. “I’m always with my drugs,” he said. “I use my pillbox to tell patients how important it is to take the drugs at the right time and by doing so, I’ve helped many people.”
More than 11,865 people are accessing treatment in this hospital. IHVN Regional Manager FCT Region, Dr. Oche Yusuf says that Christopher is a model for other patients: “He has undetectable viral load. When people living with HIV come with the false opinion that drugs taken continually do not work, we use him as a reference point.”
Christopher also is helpful in tracking patients. “He knows the social problems of many of the patients and helps in the flow of the clinic for new patients,” said Dr. Oche. “He also actively promotes other activities such as prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.”
Christopher gives health talks at the hospital and advises people living with HIV who are enrolled for HIV medications. “During these health talks, I share my own experience and tell participants if there is anything that they don’t want to ask in public, I tell them to feel free to ask me later. Usually, after the health talk, they ask questions,” he said. He also shows them pictures of when he was sick with arthritis to convince them of the importance of taking their drugs. He notes that “many of them have been encouraged by the photographs. They say that if you were this sick and you are now better, we need to take these drugs too.”
Christopher, 39, has remarried and has two more children who are HIV negative. He met his new wife in a PEPFAR-supported group of people living with HIV.