WHEN a Pretoria woman was diagnosed HIV-positive four years ago, she embraced it as one would a companion.

WHEN a Pretoria woman was diagnosed HIV-positive four years ago, she embraced it as one would a companion.

"I realised that I couldn't take care of something that I hated. The virus will always be inside of me. It has become my responsibility now," said Florence Maphege.

Maphege said living with HIV had given her a renewed purpose on life. Formerly a radiographer at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital, Maphege has become an activist and a motivational speaker for people living with HIV.

"I trained as a counsellor and learnt more about HIV. Talking about it helped me realise that having HIV is not a shame. I believe it was God's way of saving me to save others."

Maphege is one of thousands of HIV-Aids patients receiving anti-retroviral treatment as part of the Foundation for Professional Development's Positive Life Project.

Established in 1997 by the South African Medical Association, FPD partnered with the United States's Presidential Emergency Plan for Aids Relief in 2004 to provide ARV therapy for patients in rural and poorly-resourced areas.

The project is run in five provinces - Gauteng, Mpumalanga, North West, Eastern Cape and Limpopo.

FPD managing director Gustaaf Wolvaardt said they had reached 100000 patients since 2004.

Wolvaardt said 80000 patients were still on treatment and the rest had either died or fallen out of the programme.

He said the patients were initiated into the programme in groups and encouraged each other to adhere to the programme.

He said the organisation also ran a call centre to ensure that patients collected their treatment regularly.

Wolvaardt said he was concerned by the number of those who defaulted on treatment.

"Some stop taking treatment because they start feeling better and believe they are cured. Others stop taking treatment because of the side-effects and believe that they have found something better that can manage the disease without the side-effects," Wolvaardt said.

He said the stigma attached to HIV-Aids hindered men from getting treatment.

"Compared to women, the men always die first. Denial often results in men taking longer to seek treatment."

FPD also trains health professionals such as doctors, nurses and pharmacists on HIV management. The courses are run in partnership with Yale University in the US.

More than 20000 doctors in 15 African countries have been trained, with some practising in rural and underdeveloped areas.