Cameroon - Martin Pascal Etoundi

For sixteen years, Martin narrowly escaped death time and again. Today he describes himself as the phoenix reborn, alive and thriving, despite – or perhaps because of – living with HIV. At 24, this young man has already survived more hardships than most people face in a lifetime.

Martin’s mother was a flight attendant for Air France. Given a difficult family context, when she suddenly found herself single and pregnant, she decided to have her child in Germany. Martin was born in Berlin in 1994 and he was left in the care of a nanny when his mother returned to work. Despite a busy travel schedule, she visited Martin as frequently as possible. In 2000, Martin’s mother was persuaded to bring her son home to the village so that he could get to know his family in Cameroon.

It was then that tragedy struck. Martin’s mother died suddenly and her six-year-old child was left to the care of his alcoholic and abusive maternal grandmother in a small village just 25 kilometers from Yaounde. He survived by doing  jobs such as field work, washing dishes, and running errands. Small and vulnerable, Martin survived torture, slavery, car accidents, motorcycle accidents, fights and injuries, including a broken jaw.

At 18, Martin was accused of theft and spent a year in juvenile prison – a “descent into hell”, as he put it. Upon his release he was tested for hepatitis, which led to the discovery that he was HIV-positive. Full of despair at what he considered to be a death sentence, Martin tried to drown himself. But what he had hoped would be the end turned out to be only the beginning.

Martin was saved from the river in 2016. Shortly afterwards, Martin fell in love with a young woman and they had a child (both mother and daughter are HIV-negative), and he went on treatment for his HIV. Today, Martin is a chef and a musician. He is passionate about educating young people, organizing events such as fashion shows to show them that life is not over just because of a diagnosis. He says, “HIV is a thief that can steal your happiness, but only if you let it. It is up to you to say, I own this, and I will be someone.”

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For Additional Information or to Request Interviews, Please contact:
Beatrice Bernescut

Consultant

WHO Regional Office for Africa

WhatsApp: +41 78 836 6193

OKA Sakuya

Communications Manager (a.i)
WHO Regional Office for Africa
Tel: +242 06 508 1009
Email: okas [at] who.int