Staying healthy with HIV

Regis explains how access to clean water and better hygiene practices has transformed her experience of living with HIV.

When we worked with the people of Hambale village, Zambia, to access clean water and improve hygiene practices, it transformed the lives of the entire community. Here Regis, 48, explains the impact it has had on her experience of living with HIV.

"The handpump has been very good, but the best thing was that the hygiene education came first," Regis tells us, at the home she shares with five of her children and her two grandchildren.

"It showed us the error of our ways in using dirty water. As a result, diseases have gone down and we were able to embrace the handpump when it came. We had a big celebration. People were so happy."

Regis with her daughter and grandchildren enjoying fresh water
Regis with her family.
Credit: WaterAid/Anna Kari

Regis has lived in Hambale village since 2009, when she built a home for her family on her grandfather's land.

At that time, collecting water entailed a long walk to the nearest well; lack of awareness amongst the villagers meant hygiene practices in the community were poor; and cases of diarrhoea were frequent.

Even with the support of her older children, who work to earn money for the family, it’s always been a struggle for Regis to find enough food for everyone - especially during the rainy season.

But since she was diagnosed with HIV, the daily task of keeping clean and eating well has become even more critical.

Regis shows her grandchildren how to wash their hands
Regis shows her grandchildren how to wash their hands.
Credit: WaterAid/Anna Kari

For Regis and the estimated 35 million people around the world living with HIV and AIDS, good hygiene and access to clean water are vitally important for staying healthy.

People living with the illness are more susceptible to waterborne infections and six times more likely to suffer from diarrhoeal diseases. Good nutrition and staying healthy are also key to ensuring antiretroviral therapy (ART) works at its best.

"Before we had the handpump I was given containers and chlorine by the hospital to keep boiled water because it is so important," Regis says. "I got water from the well. I'd get up at 3am, because it was a long way away and if you were late it would be gone.

"Now things are positive for me. I used to get diarrhoea every six months, but now I don't have it. I am not scared and the children don’t think about the future when I am not here.

"When I was first diagnosed there were no support groups and a lot of people were secretive about HIV. Now I talk to others about the disease and encourage them to be safe.

"I tell them to use clean water so that the diseases that arise from dirty water can be kept at bay."