When Sarah was 18 and growing up in Cape Town, South Africa, she was raped by a man who wanted to “fix her” because of her attraction to women. She was later diagnosed with HIV.

Wanting to escape her situation and enjoy what she thought were her last few months alive, she came to England in January 2005. She stayed on in the UK after her visa ran out and worked in several jobs as a carer.

Sarah was unable to access any HIV care through the NHS. In a dire situation, she suffered a mental breakdown. She went to a psychiatric hospital but her lack of immigration status in the UK meant she was discharged without any medication or support.

Sarah then came to Doctors of the World’s clinic in Bethnal Green, east London. A volunteer doctor found she had other health issues as well as HIV – including Type 2 diabetes and severe asthma. Doctors of the World helped her register with a GP, find counselling therapy and find a hospital where she could get HIV treatment.

“It was the first time I was treated like a human being,” says Sarah. “I wasn’t judged, their concern was my wellbeing and my health.”

Sarah has now been granted asylum in the UK and is still registered with the same GP. She sings in a choir, enjoys creative writing and plans to volunteer as much as she can, having received assistance and guidance from charities such as Doctors of the World.

“I just want to give back. It’s my time to give back,” she says.

Photo by Mark Sherratt.