‘I found out about my HIV positive status accidentally’
The early days of HIV were darks days. There was very little information on the disease, so it hit hard on the country, killing thousands of people in gainful employment. As the AIDS-related death toll rose, many companies (including health related and life insurance providers) introduced and enforced stringent rules (some of which might I add, were in violation of basic human rights principles) that forced people to unknowingly take an HIV test – and they obviously used the result as a basis for rejecting or accepting applicants.
It was these very stringent policies that led to my accidentally finding out about my HIV status. I may not state what exactly I had undergone the health examination for, but I know it included taking a blood test. In the beginning, I kept the information to myself and then within my family (which was very supportive) as I quietly went about my everyday business. After about four years of secretly living with HIV, in a period when stigma and discrimination was rife, I decided that I did not want to continue to be one of those, that people speculated and gossiped about as to whether I was on treatment or living with HIV.
This was the best decision I made. Declaring my status and openly living with HIV brought of a lot of burden that came with non-disclosure, off my shoulders. I already had a wonderful support system in the family, with friends and some work colleagues, but would be greatly disturbed on hearing people talking about HIV - a part of me would wonder if they were referring to me.
Disclosing my HIV positive status gave me back the power as with everything in the open, people had nothing to gossip about. In addition, my disclosure led to a burning desire to learn more about the disease and how to live positively. From then, I nurtured positive networks with people from across the globe, especially women living with HIV (some of whom are not living with HIV openly) which I learn from as well as mentor others.
In the years leading to the present, I have dealt with many challenges that come with living with HIV. In December 2012, I was diagnosed with meningitis, which left a part of my right side not quite functional. With the help of my doctor, I have been able to regain some of the functions on that part. I have learnt the value of trusting and working with my physician, which enables us to together look after my health. This allows for periodic appointments and check-ups that lead to a timely change of medications when necessary.
In the end, though I learnt of my HIV positive status accidentally, it turned out well.
I realise now that my journey living with HIV could have been so different. I know for certain, that an annual HIV test should be a part of anyone’s lifestyle.
I urge men (as heads of families) to take the lead and show the way for their families. Let men take an HIV test with their spouses and partners, and further receive the results together. As in the basic education system where a child has to start in Grade One, living a healthy life today demands that you start with the very basic and the Grade One of a healthy lifestyle is an HIV test. Know your HIV status… It will be Okay!