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February 25th, 2011
07:57 PM ET

CNN Heroes: Church leader reverses stance on HIV, reaches out to those affected

Kitale, Kenya (CNN) - HIV is a curse from God. That's what Patricia Sawo used to tell others as a church leader in Kitale, Kenya.

"I thought it was a moral issue and a punishment for the disobedient," Sawo remembers.

Then one morning in 1999, Sawo awoke to find her body covered in shingles, a rash commonly associated with HIV. Scared and upset, she cried in the bathroom for two hours. A test soon confirmed her fears: She was HIV-positive.

"I couldn't believe it," said Sawo, now 45. "It was, 'Oh my God, how could this happen to me?' "

Sawo suspects that a blood transfusion was to blame, but at that time she didn't dwell on how she'd been infected. She just wanted to rid herself of the virus.

She had always told others that God could heal people if they'd fast and pray as penance for their sins. But when she followed her own advice, she still tested positive. She continued to fast and pray repeatedly for the next four years, hoping for a different outcome. But the results remained the same.

When her status became public, she became a victim of the prejudices that she had helped spread throughout her community. Within weeks, she and her husband had lost their jobs, she'd lost her leadership role in her church and their landlord had kicked them out of their home.

Read more on Sawo here.

Filed under: CNN Heroes
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