“I am still alive because of the support that I received from my wife after testing positive for HIV.”
When he visited an HIV counselling and testing centre in early 2010, Moses Murambi (not real name), who stays in Harare’s eastern townships of Mabvuku-Tafara, never thought he could be HIV positive.
The 33-year-old Murambi decided to undergo secret HIV testing because his wife, who was pregnant, had been told to do so at the antenatal clinic.
“I went for HIV testing without informing my wife because I knew I had had instances of unprotected sex with two people before marriage.
Prior to that I had not slept with anyone until I was 28,” Murambi recalled.
“I never thought I could have contracted HIV. And when I got married, I never told my wife what had happened.”
After receiving the news that her husband was HIV positive, Tendai Gumbo (25) felt betrayed.
“I should have gone for HIV testing before marriage, but I trusted him. I decided to forgive him and encouraged him to accept his condition. We needed to act quickly to reduce the chance of the virus infecting our unborn child,” said Gumbo.
Murambi said he had not expected such a calm and friendly reception from the person whose life he had put on the line.
He had initially intended to end his life after telling his wife the truth following his visit to the HIV testing centre.
When the couple visited an HIV counselling and testing centre following the confession, Gumbo tested negative.
Murambi was relieved by the turn of events.
He said: “I felt relieved and only hoped that my wife was not in the window period phase. I also had the sense of relief that my unborn child was safe. I realised I had to use condoms with my wife for the rest of my life in order to protect her from HIV (re-infection).”
The window period is the time from infection until a test can detect any change in status.
In Zimbabwe, a test result at three months after having unprotected sex with an infected partner is normally regarded as conclusive.
Due to stigmatisation of HIV and Aids in her community, Gumbo agreed to stand by her husband, but his status had to be kept a guarded secret from the extended family and the community.
“I discouraged my husband from telling people about his HIV status because I saw my own brother being shunned by the family and the community when he fell sick with an Aids-related illness in 2001,” said Gumbo.
“Everyone wished that the sooner he died the better. He died a dejected man.”
This family’s situation was further complicated by the fact that both her in-laws, aged 61, were living positively with HIV and were receiving anti-retroviral therapy (ART) at the mission hospital close to their rural home.
They were also looking after five children orphaned by Aids.
At the time of writing this story, Murambi’s mother (Granny) had just visited the couple from her rural home in Chivi.
Granny said she was shocked when she learnt that she was HIV positive.
“I used to think that HIV is a problem for the young. I was proved wrong though. Maybe, I was infected when I was looking after some of my children who died of Aids-related illnesses and passed the virus to my husband,” she said.
“It’s also possible that I was infected by my husband. He worked for a mining company before retirement while I was looking after the children in the rural areas,” she said.
Granny said her husband and she had since come to terms with their situation.
The painful thing, however, is that she did not know that her son was also living with HIV and would be required to start treatment soon.
Meanwhile, her daughter-in-law said she took repeat HIV tests after every month during her pregnancy.
It turned out that she was indeed HIV negative. She gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
“For now, I am happy that Moses is going to work but I don’t know how long this will continue. Even though HIV treatment is free at the hospital where he will be getting his drugs, people living with HIV are supposed to pay for other supplementary tests. We will not be able to raise that money if he stops going to work,” said Gumbo.
ART is offered for free at all public health centres in Zimbabwe.
However, people living with HIV (PLHIV) are required to pay $10 for other supplementary tests such as full blood count (FBC) and liver function tests (LFTs).
This is unaffordable to many PLHIV who are unemployed and live on less than $1 a day.
The survival of HIV and Aids patients such as Murambi and his parents will depend on donor countries’ contributions to the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM).
Zimbabwe has received more than $190 million from the Global Fund since 2002. At its last replenishment meeting held in New York on October 4-5, donor countries pledged US$ 11, 687 billion to the GFATM for the years 2011-2013, to support large-scale prevention, treatment and care programmes against the three diseases.
Before the meeting, Global Fund executive director Michel Kazatchkine indicated that the international aid agency was seeking replenishment of $13-20 billion for the three-year period.
The replenishment meeting did not meet the $20 billion necessary to accelerate efforts against the three diseases in saving lives.
If donor countries fail to commit enough funds to support the Global Fund, millions will be denied access to treatment, prevention and support for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.
Godsway Shumba writes in his personal capacity.