Growing up with HIV: Stories of hope

Sunday October 14 2018

 

By Tumaini Msowoya

Kelvin Wilson, 23

As a child, Kelvin Wilson used to wonder why he had to take medication every day. His parents died when he was young and so he was brought up by his grandmother.

A resident of Mabibo in Dar es Salaam, Kelvin found out he had been born with HIV at the age of 15 when he was in Form One. His grandmother did not tell him he had HIV because she did not want to hurt him.

Kelvin, who used to attend HIV clinic at Palestina Hospital in Sinza found out the truth on his own, after doubting for so long as to why he had to take medication even when he was not ill.

“I cannot recall exactly when I started using ARVs but I grew up taking the drugs. I used to ask myself why I had to attend clinic every now and then. I later found out that the drugs I was taking were ARVs and that I was HIV positive. I was heartbroken,” Kelvin recalls.

Depression took the best of him, affecting his performance in class. He dropped out of school that same year because his grandmother could no longer afford paying his school fees.

As Kelvin continued attending clinic, he met other age mates who also had HIV and was relieved to find out he was not alone.

“I had lost hope completely. It took me a whole year to accept the bitter truth that I had HIV. I drew the strength to carry on from HIV positive teens that I used to meet at the clinic. Through them, I learnt that having the virus was not the end of the world and that I could lead a normal life with the virus,” he says, full of hope.

Kelvin is a member of Network of Young People Living with HIV and Aids (NYP+). Through NYP+, Kelvin and other HIV positive young people provide counselling to youth who test positive for HIV. They encourage them to accept their situation and move on with life.

His dream is going back to school because he believes that education is everything in life. “I really would like to go back to school,” he says.

Twalib Abdul, 21

Twalib Abdul grew up knowing he was HIV positive. He was brought up by his aunt after losing his parents to Aids. His aunt told him about his HIV status when he was 11 years old and in primary school. He was already on antiretroviral treatment.

“It wasn’t easy accepting my situation because I did not believe I could be HIV positive. I instead believed my friends who suggested I consult a traditional herbalist believing he would heal me,” says Twalib, who is the NYP+ treasurer.

He stopped taking his ARVs and started visiting herbalists in vain. His health deteriorated as a result and he was bedridden at one point.

His aunt took him to hospital where he was counselled and put back on ARVs. He thanks God for giving him a very supportive family that has been his pillar of strength. It is his family that helped him accept his situation. They assured him that everything would be alright and that life has to go on.

“My family gave me a lot of encouragement and was there for me all the time,” he says.

Twalib was too close to his doctors and consulted them every time he had health problems.

Joining NYP+ was a blessing to him. Meeting fellow healthy young people living with HIV made him see that he could still lead a normal health life despite HIV infection.

His family together with NYP+ have helped him live positively with HIV. He believes he will fulfill his dream to become a TV presenter.

“If I have lived this long, I am sure my dreams will one day become true,” Twalib whose health has somehow affected his education says.

He is hopeful that he will one day go back to school now that his health condition is better.

One major challenge he is facing is temptation from girls who would like to start a relationship with him. Many girls don’t believe him when he tells them he is HIV positive.

Twalib is in a relationship with a girl who is HIV positive.

Amina Mohamed,

21

Amina Mohamed started using ARVs at the age of nine in 2006, three years after her mother’s death. She found out about her HIV status nine years later, in 2015 when she was about to sit for her Form Four national exams.

“I used to think they were TB drugs because that is what I was told. I stopped taking the medicine consistently after I thought they were not giving me relief,” she says.

She at times would put the medication on hold and continue taking the drugs every time she felt unwell. She would then stop when she felt better.

Amina says her aunt used to count the tablets and would be mad whenever Amina missed a dose. This made Amina curious. She wondered what the drugs were really for.

Her habit of missing medication prompted her aunt to take her to Mwananyamala hospital where the nurses told her the truth about her health.

“It’s not easy to understand when you are told for the first time. It was very hard for me. I could no longer concentrate in class so I stopped going to school for a while. I did not do well in my final exams and that was the end of my education journey,” narrates Amina who would like to go back to school. Amina says she hated her parents and herself at some point. She lost her mother when she was six years old in 2003. She does not know who her father is and wishes she did.

“I just wanted to die. I would at times take a razor blade and cut myself. I felt so worthless,” she says.

Meeting other young people in a similar situation made her feel better. “I felt God wanted me to live for a reason and this helped me accept my situation.”

Like many girls her age, Amina is in a relationship. She says it was hard convincing her boyfriend she had HIV. He still did not believe her when she showed him her ARVs and her HIV clinic card. He thought it was her way of rejecting him. The two went for HIV counselling and testing together and it’s only after her results came out positive that he finally believed her. He was HIV negative.

“He told me he would not stop loving me because I had HIV. He still loves me to-date,” says Amina.

Amina volunteers through NYP+ in counselling fellow youth who test positive for HIV. She advises them against losing hope, living positively and how to take good care of themselves.

Pili Isiaka, 18

Like fellow NYP+ members, Pili provides counselling to HIV positive young people. She gives hope to those who have lost hope and helps put a smile back on their faces.

Pili knows how hard it can be to receive a positive HIV test result. She found out she was HIV positive in 2014.

“I did not have the slightest idea that I had HIV. Health experts advised that I should test for HIV following frequent illnesses. My elder sister who was my caretaker consented” she says.

Her world crumbled before her when she was told she had HIV. She did not believe what she was told.

Her mother died when she was young and her family had no idea what had killed her. “I asked myself how I could have contracted HIV. My family thought my mother could have died of Aids and that she might have infected me,” Pili says.

She was immediately put on ARVs and her health improved with time. Circumstances however forced her to go off her medication for some time. “Sometimes I felt like I was being stigmatised and so I decided to quit taking my ARVs. I was still young,” she says.

She got very ill as a result and had to be put back on medication after counselling.

Pili finds refuge in NYP+ members who gave her a shoulder to cry on when she was really down. They encouraged her by sharing their own experiences and how they accepted their condition.

“They told me having HIV was not a death sentence and that I could live longer and reach my full potential. I felt at peace when I realised I was not alone and have since been happy, living positively with HIV.”

Through NYP+ Pili has learnt about reproductive health and is always open about her HIV status, especially to those eager to start a relationship with her.

To young people who are HIV negative, Pili advises them to protect themselves from infection by sticking to one faithful partner. For those with HIV, she advises them against ARV discontinuation.

Pili believes she will one day get married and start her own family with HIV negative children.

Email: tmsowoya@mwananchi.co.tz

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