Many of the women Ivorine knows, also HIV positive, have lost their income, felt isolated or need motivation to continue taking their antiretroviral treatment. The pandemic has increased the need for closeness in this community, where its members need specialized support, even as more women learn about their HIV positive diagnosis and search for a safe place.
“Adjusting to life with a positive status is extremely difficult, and with the pandemic came the heightened fear of contracting COVID-19 because of a compromised immune system, and the added anxiety of discrimination if one becomes infected and needs medical care,” Ivorine shared. Spurred into action, she worked with the Jamaica Community of Positive Women (JCW+), to transition their services to a virtual environment, helping to limit the number of women visiting the office for sessions.
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) supports HIV/AIDS programs in Jamaica, working with the Ministry of Health and Wellness to eliminate mother to child transmission of the disease, and supplies personal protective equipment (PPE) to various civil society organizations (CSOs). PAHO donated vital PPE, including surgical masks, hand sanitizers, liquid hand soaps, face shields, disposable gowns and gloves to JCW+, one of nine CSOs that received such donations from PAHO. In addition to distributing care packages, the JCW+ taught safe use of sanitization chemicals for women living with HIV/AIDS.
As a mentor, Ivorine has also been vocal about getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
By telling other positive women about my experience, it gives them the confidence to take the vaccine too. I want my life to be an example for people to know that it is possible to thrive during the pandemic by taking the necessary precautions.”
Though Ivorine’s journey involves delivering support to teens, the media, workplaces and families of people living with HIV/AIDS, her most important work remains empowering women to embrace life after a positive HIV diagnosis, and now, reassuring them that COVID-19 is not a death sentence.
“For many (HIV) positive women, the onset of the pandemic negatively impacted their mental health and it seemed like everything went wrong,” Ivorine said, as she shared some of her own struggles.
My fear of COVID-19 meant that I didn’t want to go on the road to run errands or do anything. However, when I realized my peers were in a more difficult position than I was - many faced domestic abuse, lacked emotional support of family and friends - it spurred me to look beyond my personal fears and take action to help.”
It’s a sentiment that was supported by at least one young woman, whom Ivorine helped through the JCW+, who described her as “amazing.”
“Ivorine never tells me what to do but uses a friendly demeanor when discussing the different options ahead of me. At the end of the conversation, I know my options and I am equipped to make the decision that is best for me - whatever I decide, I know that I can call on Ivorine when I need her,” the young woman, who asked to be called “CS,” told PAHO.
Ivorine’s journey of empowering women in Jamaica living with HIV/AIDS continues. She accepts her role as a source of information on reproductive health, domestic violence and mental health support.
“Years ago, I realized that by just speaking with women who received an HIV positive diagnosis, they would leave the conversation with hope for the future, and so I continue to make myself available. Only by pulling together would we survive this reality on a mental and physical level,” Ivorine concluded.