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HIV-positive advocate hailed as hero at funeral

By Kimberly Castillo

MOURNERS piled in to Woodbrook Pentecostal Church on Gallus Street yesterday to pay their final respects to well-known HIV/AIDS advocate Lorna Henry and her daughter, eight-year-old Ja Phia Henry.

 Lorna died at the Port of Spain General Hospital on April 29. She had been taken to hospital after suffering a fall in which she hit her head.

 Henry learnt she was HIV positive almost two decades ago and became an outspoken supporter of those living with the disease. She was 37 years old.

Four days after her death, Henry’s family was plunged into further grief when young Ja Phia died at the Intensive Care Unit at Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex (EWMSC).

Earlier this year, Ja Phia, who was a pupil at Moulton Hall Methodist School, had been diagnosed with leukaemia and had been receiving chemotherapy.

Fellow pupils attended the service for their friend, who was described as “amazing”.

Representatives from UNAIDS, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and non-governmental organisations Is There Not a Cause (ITNAC), Rescue Mission, Millennium Sistahs and Just Because Foundation were among those gathered at the funeral service for mother and daughter.

Henry, who had a strong working relationship with NGOs, was lauded as a “champion advocate” who represented people living with HIV/AIDS admirably.

 She was also remembered as one who was a voice for the voiceless and who helped those in need.

Henry fought to end discrimination against those living with HIV/AIDS and spoke candidly at symposiums and conferences about her experience living with HIV.

 In 2010, Henry appeared in the short documentary Pregnant and Positive, which was screened at the New York International Film Festival.

Following a trip to Vienna, Austria, for a conference on HIV/AIDS, Henry also devoted her time and energy to the non-profit organisation Mothers to Mothers, which she founded in 2011 with the aim of preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV and providing education and support for pregnant women and new mothers living with HIV and AIDS.

“She was not only an advocate for those living with HIV/AIDS, she was an advocate for anyone who was marginalised, poor or had challenges,” said founder of ITNAC, Avonelle Hector Joseph.

Co-ordinator of the HIV ministry at Rescue Mission and public relations officer at Faith Based Network TT, Merle Ali, met Henry 16 years ago and said she was excited when Henry decided to come forward and publicly share her status.

Doing so, said Ali, was an effective channel for education and sensitisation on issues related to HIV/AIDS, particularly about the challenges of persons living with HIV/AIDS.

“Lorna was able to articulate her messages candidly to various audiences. She was relentless in her activism and passionate in her drive to make a difference in a world with HIV. She made her voice heard and her presence known in advocating for a cause she believed in ... she certainly used every opportunity to share her life so that others would be impacted in one way or the other,” said Ali.

For her sister’s eulogy, Abigail Cudjoe read a letter Henry had penned for her children in which she expressed gratitude to God for having chosen her to be a mother.

“When I’m gone, remember all the things I taught you so that you can impart this teaching to your children,” Henry wrote in the letter.  

Lorna Henry is survived by her husband, son and daughter. 

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