In Niger, women living with HIV build businesses and fresh starts

woman in field
With help from a micro-loan, S.O. has turned her life around after being diagnosed as HIV-positive. (Photo: REFNI+)

The daily life of S.O.* resembles that of many other women in Niger. But this 46-year-old HIV-positive woman and mother of six has come a long way.

In 2004, she discovered she was HIV positive.

Highlights

  • UNDP and UNAIDS have provided more than US$ 30,000 dollars in funding to four AIDS networks in Niger, which was then divided into low-interest micro-credit loans.
  • The project allowed about 100 HIV-positive women to receive training in management and entrepreneurship.
  • There are more than 60,000 people living with HIV in Niger, or a prevalence of 0.7 percent, one of the lowest rates in Africa. (Source: UNAIDS)

“It was as if the sky had fallen on my head,” she recounts, her voice full of emotion. “It was like a death sentence.”

Resigned and feeling powerless, she prepared for a death that she believed was “imminent” and sent her children to her closest relatives.

But nine years after her HIV test, S.O. is still alive and in excellent physical condition — and she is beaming.

She owes her salvation first and foremost to her loved ones, who convinced her to go the closest health centre, where she regularly gets antiretroviral drugs for her treatment. She even convinced her husband, who was very reluctant, to go there. Today, they are both doing well. They just had a daughter who is not infected, thanks to the program for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT). For S.O., this baby is “an incentive to live.”

S.O. received much-needed economic assistance, provided by UNDP to the Nigerien chapter of SWAA (Society for Women and AIDS in Africa) in 2009 and 2010. This support was geared toward strengthening the capacities of people living with HIV to help them set up income-generating activities such as sewing, dyeing, soap-making and batiking.

At the end of this program, UNDP and UNAIDS signed an agreement to support Niger in reducing people’s vulnerability to HIV, providing approximately US $30,000 to four Nigerien AIDS networks. S.O., one of 100 HIV-positive women supported through this project, received a low-interest loan for 150,000 francs (about US $300), enabling her to take advantage of her training in small business set-up and management.

“The day I received my loan, I didn’t sleep,” S.O. said, adding,  “Imagine a woman who has nothing, who begs in order to eat and feed her children, and who suddenly finds herself with 150,000 francs.”

With her loan, she first bought a cart that she rents out for transporting wood. Each morning, S.O. also prepares millet pancakes that she sells in the neighborhood, in addition to raising poultry.

Thanks to all these activities, S.O. now earns about US $150 per month, which allows her to be independent and fulfill both her and her family’s needs. Now that she is earning a stable income, S.O. has stopped begging for food.

“Nowadays,” she says, “I even let myself vary the meals: rice, yams, fish, and who knows what else. For someone like me who could have easily spent a week without having even 200 francs, life is beautiful, because famine is far behind us.”

Through her courage and initiative, S.O. shows that AIDS is not a certain death, much less a barrier to entrepreneurship. Today, she has many plans in mind: to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, to buy a truck to transport wood  and to help her children succeed at school.

*Name has been changed.