I am 28. White. A Female. And a former Peace Corps Volunteer. I am HIV Positive. This is my story of how a few months, a few people, and a few events in Zambia changed me and my life forever. This is the story of how I contracted HIV and brought my Peace Corps Journey to a crashing halt... and how I am working now to pick up and put back together the pieces of my life as a newly diagnosed person living with HIV. This was not the journey I had originally planned... my path has traumatically and dramatically changed... but it is the one I am on now. There is no going back. There is only forward. I welcome you to follow along with me as I attempt to explore this new life ahead of me, whether you are someone from the Peace Corps community, or someone living with HIV. I welcome your comments, questions, suggestions, and opinions. Let us go forward together. To start from the beginning, click here He Gave Me More Than A Bracelet.

HIV in Peace Corps

As Peace Corps volunteers we often think we are setting out to change something in the world. We enter new countries, and we start new programs, and we try to make a difference. Peace Corps volunteers in countries all around the world are often focusing on making a difference in one common area: HIV/AIDS. In Sub-Saharan African countries, for example, ALL volunteers have a HIV/AIDS component to their work, regardless of their main project area. Volunteers recieve numerous and ongoing trainings related to HIV/AIDS, literature and educational materials, and possibly funds to support related projects. This is all provided in order to help volunteers make safe and healthy choices for themselves, but also so that they can serve as HIV/AIDS educators and activists within the communities that they live and work in.
Peace Corps Volunteers are Leaders in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS

But it is a risk to live and work in these countries that have such drastically high rates of HIV. And over the years there have been many volunteers that have contracted the virus. Because of the stigma still associated with HIV, you may not often hear of them or their stories. Here is the most information I've been able to gather (this information has been gathered from my own research; do not take it as absolute fact):

Peace Corps Volunteers Testing Positive for HIV

Between 1989 and 2010, 43 Peace Corps Volunteers have tested positive for HIV (plus me= 44). According to the below Peace Corps Health Report, 0-4 volunteers contracted HIV each year.
 
Here is a breakdown of PCVs testing positive for HIV by country, along with the years of occurrence. (This table only shows information from the 2006-2010 health reports. The earlier reports do not specify the countries in which volunteers contracted HIV, though I may try to find out this information.)
Country
# of PCV’s Contracting HIV
Years
Zambia
3
2011, 2008, 2007
Mozambique
2
2010, 2010
Thailand
1
2010
Paraguay
1
2010
Moldova
1
2009
Ukraine
1
2008
The Gambia
1
2008
Namibia
1
2006
The Health of the Volunteer 2008 Report
(I have the Health of the Volunteer 2009 and 2010 Reports, but am unable to upload them here.)

Legal History of HIV in the Peace Corps
Prior to 2008, it seems that volunteers testing HIV positive were automatically medically separated from the Peace Corps.

In 2008, HIV positive volunteer Jeremiah Johnson joined with ACLU to legally challenge the Peace Corps HIV Policy.
Poz.com- Jeremiah Johnson's Story
ACLU- Jeremiah Johnson Case
Edge- ACLU Challenge to Peace Corps

Another HIV positive volunteer, Rebecca Coulborn, came forward with her story and supported Jeremiah and the ACLU's challenge to Peace Corps.
UN Plus- Rebeccah Coulbourn

Under pressure from ACLU, Peace Corps seems to clarify their HIV Policy in mid 2008. Peace Corps states that their policy is to review each volunteer's case on an individual basis.
Peace Corps Response to ACLU

Later in 2008, Elizabeth Tunkle seems to be the first HIV positive volunteer to avoid medical separation and return to complete her service with the Peace Corps.
Speaking My Truth: HIV Positive and Serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer

Due to confidentiality reasons, it is difficult to discern whether other HIV positive volunteers have since returned to service, although I found this one article that mentions one additional HIV positive volunteer, Craig, returning to and completing his service.
Volunteer Positive- Craig

In September 2011, I tested positive for HIV and was medically evacuated back to the United States. I was medically separated from the Peace Corps in October 2011, after the maximum allowable 45 days of Medevac Status. Peace Corps has given me the option to apply for reinstatement within one year, if I can prove to be in stable medical condition for a certain period of time and achieve certain lab requirements.

***Update 12/25/2013: I have recently received an e-mail from a RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer). She shared an amazing story with me, and some important information that I need to share with all PCV's, RPCV's, and future PCV's. This amazing woman was born with HIV and has lived her whole life with the disease. After hearing Elizabeth Tunkle's story, she had the courage to apply for the Peace Corps and see if they would accept her. Guess what! They did! The Peace Corps doctors in DC talked with her and worked with her to find an appropriate country and placement. The Peace Corps Medical Officers in her host country were also always supportive of her and proud to say that she was one of their healthiest volunteers. I am happy to share that this HIV+ woman has now successfully served and completed her two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer! I applaud this brave woman and all future volunteers that have the courage to go for their dreams, without allowing any disease or medical condition to hold them back! I also applaud the Peace Corps for being open and willing to broaden their acceptance of applicants with HIV.

Post Exposure Prophylaxis Use in the Peace Corps

Post Exposure Prophylaxis has been available in the Peace Corps since 1997. However, data on PEP use was first collected in 2006.

Here is a breakdown of PEP use by country and year, between 2006 and 2010.
Country
 2010
2009
2008
2007
2006
Armenia
1




Azerbaijan
1
1
2
1

Belize
1


1
1
Benin
6
1
2
4
2
Bolivia


1

7
Botswana
2
1
3
3
3
Bulgaria
1



1
Burkina Faso
7
6
4
5
2
Cambodia


1
1

Cameroon
3
1
2
2
5
Cape Verde
1
3
1
4
4
China
2

1
1

Costa Rica


1


Dominican Republic
1

2

4
Eastern Caribbean
1
5
6
1
1
Ecuador
1

1

1
El Salvador

3
1
1

Ethiopia
2
2
4


Fiji




1
Georgia



1

Ghana
2
3
1
2
3
Guatemala
5
1
3
1
3
Guinea

2
3

4
Guyana

1


2
Honduras
1

3

2
Jamaica

3

1
1
Kazakhstan




1
Kenya
1
3

6
2
Kiribati



1

Kyrgyz Republic
2
1

2
1
Lesotho
5
8
6
2
4
Liberia
2




Macedonia


3
3

Madagascar
2

3
12
6
Malawi
4
6
8
2
6
Mali
1
2
2
4
1
Mauritania


1

1
Micronesia



1

Moldova



2
1
Mongolia


1
3

Morocco
1
1
5
5
9
Mozambique
11
4
8
17
7
Namibia
3
2
6
3
9
Nicaragua
2
3
1
2
3
Niger


1
4
3
Panama

3
1


Paraguay
3
1



Peru
2


3
1
Rwanda
5
3



Samoa



1

Senegal
1
2
2
1
2
Sierra Leone
1




South Africa
1

2
2
3
Swaziland

1
3
3
1
Tanzania
3
3
1
1
1
Thailand
1

1


The Gambia
7


1
2
Turkmenistan


1


Togo
2
4
4
4
4
Uganda
6
2
4
2

Ukraine
3
4
2
2
5
Vanuatu




1
Zambia
3
2
7
9
7



13 comments:

  1. Hi Jessica,
    This is Valerie Hill. Remember me? Brent and Chad's mom. Sorry to hear about you contracting HIV!! It sounds like you are doing your best and educating yourself. Love your blog. Did you ever confront that guy? Did he know he was infected? Keep your head up and keep strong....

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  2. How big was that guy's cock? Do you have a pic of him?

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  3. Do you remember how you contracted HIV?

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    Replies
    1. I'm thinking it was through sexual intercourse thats usually how you get it.

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  4. All the data you collected is really much much informative and I'll must say you deserve appreciation for this!

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  5. Sorry she got hiv!!!! Wtf? She had to be punished for her evil adulterous sins so justice is served on this earth let's hope she repents and gets forgiveness before further pinishment

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    Replies
    1. This is the kind of HORRIBLE mentality that causes those with serious diseases to be discriminated. How would you like to be raped and then be told you deserved it?

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  6. she was adulterous and justice was served with punishment!! Hopefully she repents so that she doesn't get punished much worse...sorry but if someone takes a life they must be punished!!! If someone commits adultery they must get punished!

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    Replies
    1. She didn't kill anyone or deserve HIV. What an awful thing to say.

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  7. I really can't feel sorry. You were sleeping around in a region known for HIV.

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  8. hi i am also livng with hiv and i just wondering to to apply as a peace corps and what are the requirements, thanks so much.
    hivph

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  9. HIV can be transmitted by blood and breastmilk as well, so don't go assuming.

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