"I learnt that you need money or a business to generate enough income to be able to travel to town for regular check-ups and to collect antiretroviral drugs. We do not have these services at our village dispensary."

These are the words of Faith who is 61 years old and one of the estimated 730 000 women living with HIV in Tanzania, where national prevalence is around 5.6%. In her village in the northern Kilimanjaro region, she is a member of a women's dairy cooperative which also provides financial services such as savings and credit through the village community bank.

With support from an International Labour Organization (ILO) programme funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the cooperative organizes entrepreneurial skills-building and HIV awareness-raising activities. This is a seen as a real source of empowerment for rural women like Faith, who live far from the towns where most HIV services are located.

Faith keeps three healthy dairy cows with good yields. She makes up to US$ 250 a month from the milk she sells through the women's dairy cooperative. "It is a lot of money for me," she says. "The cooperative trained me and provided a market for my cow's milk."

She is one of the 1600 women and men who participated in the ILO/Sida Start and Improve Your Business training programme in Tanzania in 2009. The programme has a specific focus on cooperatives as structures that can help reach workers in the informal economy with the aim of preventing HIV, mitigating its impact and improving conditions for workers living with, and affected by, the virus.

When she tested HIV-positive in 2005, Faith decided to accept her status and be open about it, despite the high level of stigma and discrimination in her community. After initial difficulties, Faith says she has found acceptance and has become a peer educator, supporting other HIV-positive people who want to start their own businesses.

She has now been able to diversify her sources of income and grows maize and other vegetables. "I get all the nutritious food recommended by doctors from my own farm. I use part of the money to pay for school fees for my two nieces."

According to Faith, her acceptance of her HIV status has given her a long life. Her self-confidence, sense of dignity and economic independence have grown immeasurably with the opportunities created by the cooperative.

Dr Luc Barriere-Constantin, the UNAIDS Country Coordinator for Tanzania, agrees that cooperatives can play a key role in boosting prospects for HIV-positive people. "It is essential to re-build the capacities of people living with HIV through the restoration of self-confidence and hope. To do that we don't necessarily need millions of dollars, but simply to be convinced, and to convince those living with the virus, that they can make a valuable contribution. This project shows it is possible."

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