Treat­ment re­stores life to those at death’s door

CityPress - - News - ZINHLE MA­PUMULO zinhle.ma­pumulo@city­press.co.za

Mashishi (42) had one foot in the grave 11 years ago. She was gravely ill and could not eat or walk with­out help.

Doc­tors told her she had full-blown Aids, a di­ag­no­sis that meant death at the time. But she re­fused to suc­cumb to the dis­ease and lived to tell the tale, which started with her cousin car­ry­ing her on his back to the well­ness cen­tre in Masakhane, an an­tiretro­vi­ral (ARV) site at the Tem­bisa Mu­nic­i­pal Clinic in Ekurhu­leni.

“I was so weak ... My mother said I will live and not die and, as dif­fi­cult as it was to be­lieve, I held on to those words,” she says.

“I started an­tiretro­vi­ral treat­ment im­me­di­ately and, in less than three months, I was up and run­ning, al­though I had not fully re­cov­ered,” says Mashishi.

She was one of the first peo­ple to start tak­ing ARVs when they were in­tro­duced into the pub­lic health­care sec­tor in April 2004. She started treat­ment in Au­gust that year, and life has only im­proved since then.

To­day, she is hap­pily mar­ried with chil­dren and em­pha­sises that, had she not taken ARVs, she would now be six feet un­der­ground.

“I was bedrid­den and some peo­ple were prob­a­bly pre­par­ing for my fu­neral,” she says.

“Every day, I would think that I will not see the next day. But look at me now – I am liv­ing healthily and en­joy­ing life to the full,” she says.

Although Mashishi is happy and pos­i­tive, she ac­knowl­edges that hers has not been an easy jour­ney – but she takes it one day at time. She found out that she was HIV pos­i­tive in 1993 while preg­nant with her first child, who died a few months af­ter be­ing born.

Seven years later, a man she loved dearly died af­ter a long pe­riod of ill­ness – a few weeks af­ter he started ARV treat­ment. This scared Mashishi, caus­ing her to de­lay start­ing her treat­ment un­til af­ter her HIV in­fec­tion pro­gressed to full­blown Aids.

“I be­lieved that if I started tak­ing treat­ment, I would also die. Back then, there was not much in­for­ma­tion about HIV treat­ment and there was talk that ARVs were toxic. One did not know what to be­lieve. When I think back to­day about the sup­port I got from my fam­ily, es­pe­cially my mother and step­fa­ther, tears fill my eyes be­cause, with­out them, I would not be alive,” she says.

“My step­fa­ther en­cour­aged me to take ARVs, say­ing that they would keep me alive – and here I am to­day.”

Mashishi en­cour­ages peo­ple who test pos­i­tive for HIV to start treat­ment as soon as pos­si­ble.

“I watched so many of my friends and fam­ily die – all be­cause they re­fused treat­ment. Don’t do the same thing.

“Yes there are some side-ef­fects that come with tak­ing ARVs, but it should not be the rea­son you are putting your life at risk.

“I am tes­ti­mony to how ARVs can keep you healthy and make you live longer.”

Tshayana (35) vowed that he would never take ARVs. He be­lieved that eat­ing healthily, ex­er­cis­ing reg­u­larly and tak­ing herbs was all he needed to stay healthy and alive.

Tshayana, who found out that he was HIV pos­i­tive in 1999, con­tin­ued with his own treat­ment for seven years. Dur­ing that time, it seemed to be work­ing per­fectly for him. His CD4 count fluc­tu­ated be­tween 350 and 400 and – ex­cept for sea­sonal ill­nesses such as in­fluenza – he did not get sick.

Among peo­ple with HIV, their CD4 count is the most im­por­tant lab­o­ra­tory in­di­ca­tor of how well their im­mune sys­tems are work­ing and the strong­est pre­dic­tor of HIV pro­gres­sion.

In 2005, how­ever, he started drink­ing heav­ily and his CD4 count started drop­ping. For­tu­nately, he had a friend who was a doc­tor, who kept beg­ging Tshayana to start ARV treat­ment.

Tshayana says he was very re­luc­tant to start tak­ing ARVs, de­spite warn­ings from the doc­tor that he was send­ing him­self to an early grave.

“At the time, I worked for an or­gan­i­sa­tion that was against an­tiretro­vi­ral treat­ment. I strongly be­lieved that ARVs were toxic and I wanted to prove to peo­ple that liv­ing healthily and tak­ing herbs could keep Aids at bay,” he says.

At the end of 2006, Tshayana fell ill, but he didn’t in­form any of his friends or fam­ily be­cause he was scared they would say “we told you so”.

Tshayana’s un­cle first no­ticed his nephew was sick when he vis­ited him in Dur­ban, where he was work­ing at the time.

“My un­cle tried to con­vince me to start tak­ing treat­ment. Even though I could see that my health was de­te­ri­o­rat­ing, I just couldn’t bring my­self to take the treat­ment,” he says.

It was not un­til Tshayana be­came gravely ill that he fi­nally de­cided to start tak­ing ARVs in Jan­uary 2007.

He ad­mits re­gret at not heed­ing his fam­ily’s ad­vice sooner, be­cause he prob­a­bly would not have be­come as sick as he did, but he says he loves them for not giv­ing up on him.

“My fam­ily was sup­port­ive from the day I learnt that I was HIV pos­i­tive in 1999. Even when I was re­fus­ing to take treat­ment, they would say that if I wouldn’t take treat­ment for my­self, I should do it for them,” he says.

“Tak­ing ARVs saved my life, and that is why it shat­ters me when a per­son close to me dies of an Aids-re­lated ill­ness.”

Lor­raine Mashishi

Zon­wa­bele Tshayana

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