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HIV no longer a death sentence


No one expected Divine Chamberlain of Harare (not her real name) to live long.Many of her age mates died from opportunistic infections when they were still babies.

Report by Ropafadzo Mapimhidze

But I received a message from her last night around midnight, where she said that the virus that causes Aids has been undetectable for the past one year.

Divine was a schoolmate with my daughter in high school.

She was very open about her condition. She was an active young girl who participated in all sorts of sporting activities and loved cooking as well.

There was a day when my daughter came home from school and told me that Divine’s CD4 count had gone down to 20, but she was up and about. She is now 22.

“I was diagnosed when I was 12 and told about my status when I was 14.  I told some of my school friends including your daughter. I have been on medication for a long time.

“There was a time I didn’t want to take my medication and really got ill. I was never pulled out of school for a long time. I was absent for maybe two weeks or less. I was back on treatment, but stopped taking my pills again because I felt it was time for me to die. But I decided to take the pills once again and now the virus is undetectable. When I found out about my HIV status, I said why me oh God.”

She once tied a handkerchief around her mouth when parents visited the school on consultation day around 2007/2008 and openly told her schoolmates that she had mouth thrush, a condition that is common in people living with HIV.My daughter was so depressed because she thought she was going to die. But it is that positive mindset that probably resulted in her fighting off HIV.

HIV mostly often infects CD4 cells. The virus becomes part of the cells, and when they multiply to fight an infection, and make more copies of HIV. When someone is infected with HIV, but has not started treatment, the number of CD4 cells they have goes down.

This is a sign that the immune system is being weakened. The lower the CD4 cell count, the more likely the person will get sicker and die.

Divine lives with her aunt as both her parents passed on after succumbing to Aids. Those were the years when HIV had no treatment.
The Body, a website on Internet, says as antiretroviral treatment has improved, a “generation of young people whose unexpected maturation is both a miracle and an extraordinary challenge” had emerged.

“However, because HIV-positive people often face stigma and because talking about HIV often involves discussions of unprotected sex or other topics usually reserved for older children or adults, some parents decide to wait until their HIV-positive children are teenagers before telling them they are HIV-positive.”

That is exactly what happened to Devine. She was told about her HIV status as she was approaching her teens.

I once wrote about a Joyce Taderera from Tynwald North in Westgate about four years ago, who was 19 then. She committed suicide by taking a drug overdose because she failed to accept her HIV status which she was born with. She would cry all the time and refused to take anti-retroviral drugs.

A CNN health report says with advances in medicine, babies born with what was once thought of as a sure-fatal virus have danced at their high school proms, walked on stage to receive their diplomas and even experienced the birth of their children.

“It’s a battle – not because the HIV is going to defeat us,” said Quintara Lane, a 22-year-old student. “It’s more of what we have to go through to take care of ourselves.”

Lane is part of a generation that was born with the virus in the United States of America. Since the mid-1990s antiretroviral drugs have largely prevented mothers from transmitting HIV/Aids to their babies.

Positively Orphaned, another website on Internet, says HIV/Aids has been around for nearly 30 years, and there are adults who have had HIV all their lives.

“Thankfully, they are speaking out about their lives and inspiring others. These people were born at a time when anti-retroviral (ARV) medications were not yet available (before 1996) and they know the heartbreak of losing loved ones who did not live long enough to access ARVs.

“Those who survived the early days with very few treatment options eventually got access to ARVs and many lead normal healthy lives now.
“However, some adults in this same situation were not as lucky and their disease progressed to Aids before ARV treatment was an option which has led to health problems or cognitive issues.”

Although a cure has not been found yet, all these testimonies are proof that HIV is no longer the death sentence that once was in Zimbabwe in the mid-80s.

Feedback: rmapimhidze@newsday.co.zw

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