By Bala James Buba, Iveren Saálaka Blessing, Yahaya Ruth Musa
In the bustling city streets of Gombe, there is a woman known simply as “Area Baby.” For years, she had been a prominent figure in her community, a source of joy and entertainment for many. Yet, her life took a dramatic turn as she silently battled a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that threatened not only her health but also her livelihood. Area Baby’s vivacious spirit and infectious laughter once drew clients and friends alike to her. However, as her STI persisted, the sweet scent of success began to sour, leaving her feeling isolated and dejected. Her loyal customers began to stay away, avoiding her as if she carried a contagion. Her co-workers, once allies, were quick to taunt her, their voices filled with cruel judgment: “Area Baby no clean ooo!” The weight of the stigma left Area Baby shattered, both emotionally and financially. With her income dwindling, she mustered the courage to seek over-the-counter drugs to combat the infection. But the steep cost of the medication was a burden she couldn’t bear, especially when she was no longer in business. One fateful night, as Area Baby returned to her familiar hangout joint, she encountered a group of community facilitators conducting testing. The darkness of the night provided a cover for her to approach them, humbly seeking help. And help, she most certainly received.
The community facilitators, from the FSW led CBOs supported by IPs (SFH and FHI360) and donors, had a mission to break down barriers to healthcare access, particularly for vulnerable populations. They offered Area Baby the support she needed, connecting her to affordable healthcare services and treatment. But her courage didn’t stop there; she also introduced the facilitators to five of her co-workers. As it turned out, three out of the five co-workers tested positive for both STI and HIV, conditions they had been unaware of due to the fear of stigma and discrimination. Thanks to Area Baby’s bravery, they too were linked to care and began their journey towards recovery. With her health on the mend, Area Baby returned to her business, her smile once again captivating her audience. Her courage not only saved her own life but also that of her co-workers. Moreover, her actions made a significant impact on the local night scene.
The night outings that were once tainted by ridicule and stigma now provided an opportunity for people like Area Baby to access essential services without judgment. The funding from IPs (SFH and FHI360) not only made this project possible but also approved of the night time outreach, creating a safe space for those in need. Area Baby’s story serves as a powerful reminder that no one should suffer in silence due to stigma and fear. Her journey from despair to triumph showcases the strength of the human spirit and the transformative power of support and understanding. Through her courage, she not only reclaimed her own life but also illuminated a path for others to follow, ultimately making their night outings a resounding success filled with hope and healing.