Fit for Life

Boris shows off his muscles.

Eric Bond, EGPAF

Boris is a 43-year-old mechanic living in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, a bustling coastal city in West Africa. He enjoys a full and happy life with his longtime girlfriend and 16-year-old son. When he is not working on cars, he works on his body—lifting weights to build muscle mass and definition. He has never competed as a bodybuilder, but he takes pride that he is approaching middle age with a fit appearance.

Three years ago, Boris was discouraged. His weight had dropped from 85 kilos (187 pounds) to 45 kilos (99 pounds). He felt so weak that he could hardly walk, much less lift household objects. But when he finally went to the hospital, he was brushed aside without diagnosis or treatment.

“I lost all hope,” Boris says.

As his condition worsened, Boris’ girlfriend urged him to seek treatment once again. He ended up at FSU Pangolin, a hospital supported by the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF). Boris was quickly diagnosed with HIV and tuberculosis (TB), common co-infections. He was counseled about his condition and put on treatment.

“Dr. Kuaku followed up with me and I started taking medication immediately,” says Boris, who is at the hospital today for a blood test and to pick up his medication.

“Then I had to tell my girlfriend about my condition. It was difficult in the beginning, but eventually she accepted [it], and she came to the hospital to be tested. She was found to be HIV-negative.”

Boris’ family stuck by him, especially his sister who provided daily encouragement and checked to make sure that he was adhering to treatment. As months passed, Boris began to gain back his weight. He is now at 75 kilos (165 pounds), and spends at least one hour each day with his barbell and dumbbells.

“I’m happy,” says Boris. “I see myself as a role model. I tell other HIV-positive men not to be ashamed, to follow treatment. And I tell my son that he can practice safe sex and avoid HIV.”

EGPAF supports FSU Pangolin and 125 other clinics and hospitals through the Centers for Disease Control-funded Project Djidja. Through Djidja, EGPAF is strengthening health systems by training health care workers to provide high-quality HIV prevention, care, and treatment services. EGPAF also provides direct support for HIV care and treatment and diagnosis and treatment of TB.

EGPAF’s mission is to end AIDS in children, so a main focus is ensuring that pregnant women are tested and put on treatment if they test positive for HIV. That way, their babies can be born HIV-free. But EGPAF-supported health workers recognize the importance of testing, counseling, and treating all people—including men, who can be more difficult to link to treatment because of social norms.

Because Boris is adhering to treatment and is aware of his HIV status, he is unlikely to infect his girlfriend, and he also serves as a positive example for his son.

His clinic visit concluded, Boris puts on his serious weightlifting face and makes a muscle.

"Look at me now," he says.