Lumbidzani Dima, Chronicle Reporter
THE words “we are very sorry, your blood shows that you are HIV positive”, gave Ms Sithethelele Nkomo nightmares, confusion, suicidal thoughts and rang in her mind for two good months without disclosing them to anyone.
The 47-year-old woman from Mbembeswana in Bubi District, Matabeleland North said she tested positive in 2010.
Those results were a twisting turn in her life as she believed that it was the end of the road.
Ms Nkomo, is a mother to four children, grandmother to one and a widow.
She said testing HIV positive was life changing, she resigned with immediate effect at River Ranch Diamond Mine in Beitbridge where she was working.
What strained her more is that she did not suspect that she was HIV positive, she had just gone to the clinic because of a mere blister on the foot.
“I had a very painful blister on my foot for some time, which was weird to me because a blister does not take long to heal. I could not even wear other shoes except for slippers.
Then I decided to go to a clinic, where they suggested that
I undergo HIV testing. Before testing they counselled us and I thought that I would accept any result, but when they told me that I was HIV positive, I could not believe it.
I felt my heart stopping because all that was running through my mind was ‘this is the end of me, I’m a dead person’,” she said.
Ms Nkomo said she blew all the money that she had, bought all the nice food that she liked and some that she had never eaten, with a mindset that she had to do the things before dying.
It took her two months to tell her mother who then helped her pick up the pieces.
“I immediately resigned, came to the village, took all my savings, bought food and spoiled myself, all in the name of blowing it before I finally died. I was so stressed and confused at the same time, not knowing what to do. In a way I was in denial.
After two full months of sorrow, I went to my mother and opened up about everything. As cool as she was, she made me accept it because she was part of those Home-Based Care members who took care of HIV positive people.
Therefore, she was well equipped with almost everything related with the disease,” she said.
Ms Nkomo said what made things even better on her side was getting to know that a few individuals whom she knew also had the virus.
She recalls how afraid and discriminatory the community and particularly neighbours were towards her.
“I faced discrimination when I came back home. Our neighbours could not understand, so their children were no longer allowed to come and play in our home because there was a sick me.
To my surprise I started seeing some of them joining us in the ART queues at clinics, and that discrimination faded.
The communities have warmed up to the disease and accepted that it lives within us,” she said.
Ms Nkomo started taking life saving antiretroviral therapy (ART) in 2012.
In 2013, after going for testing this time results did not come as HIV positive but Target Not Detectable (TND).
She has a suppressed viral load, due to the effectiveness of ARVs which she said are helpful and give her peace of mind because she follows all their instructions.
Viral load refers to the amount of HIV in one’s fluids.
Effective HIV treatment (antiretroviral therapy) suppresses the amount of HIV in body fluids to the point where standard tests are unable to detect any HIV, or can only find a tiny trace.
Doctors call this ‘virological suppression’ but it is often known as ‘having an undetectable viral load’ or ‘being undetectable’.
Having an undetectable viral load does not mean one is cured of HIV. If one stops taking treatment, the viral load increases and once again be detectable.
Having an undetectable viral load does mean that there is not enough HIV in your body fluids to pass HIV on during sex. In other words, you are not infectious.
For as long as your viral load stays undetectable, your chance of passing on HIV to a sexual partner is zero.
Ms Nkomo said now she does not get an HIV positive result.
“A year into my ART medication, my blood test results would come back saying Target Not Detectable up until now.
If you follow all instructions the viral load will be suppressed. I don’t remember missing my chosen time by even two minutes,” said Ms Nkomo.
She said telling her children about her status was not as challenging as it should be because they would have already learnt about it at school.
Ms Nkomo said she opened up to the community because she realised that such a status is not the end of life, it does not disturb anything at all.
She said opening up actually relieves a person because they do not have to worry about their secret coming out.
She urged people living with HIV to just follow instructions, eat well.
One can eat vegetables from gardens and beans and drink pills on time and everything will go well, she added.
One of the Matabeleland North National Aids Council coordinators, Mr Kelvin Tshuma said viral load suppression happens when one adheres to ART.
“Target Not Detectable (TND) happens when one religiously adheres to ART leading to the suppression of the viral load. Because of that, the HIV virus becomes undetectable. One can sleep with such a person and not get infected with HIV,” he said.
Article Source: The Chronicle