My life is not defined by what is in my blood, I define myself and who I want to be

Anonymous Guest Blogger, Lilongwe, Malawi.

© UNICEF Malawi/2017/Kalemba

I was 19 years old and in my first year of undergraduate studies at one of the universities when I learnt about my HIV status.

A guy that I was dating proposed that we should go for an HIV test. He had the test done first. His results came back negative. Not to be out done I confidently went for the test but sadly my results came back positive.

These results triggered some bad childhood memories. I recalled being molested at the age of eight and I remembered being sick very frequently as a child and getting blood transfusions.

I suspected one of these scenarios to be how I got infected with HIV. When I shared the results with my boyfriend, he changed his attitude towards me and later dumped me. I also shared the results with my Dad and to my surprise, he said that he had always suspected that I was HIV positive.

HIV test samples at a hospital in Malawi 
© UNICEF Malawi/2011/Noorani

The HIV positive diagnosis affected me badly. I lost concentration in class and started absconding classes in search for spiritual healing. As a result I failed and repeated my first year. My CD4 count went down to 200. I was having a hard time accepting my status.

In my quest to find solace and answers in God, I started attending prayer meetings. At one of these meetings I met two ladies who were talking about HIV. The two ladies encouraged me to start medication.

The first hospital I went to treated me more like a client and not a person. Everything was so mechanical. I changed hospitals and started attending clinics at a government clinic for HIV related illness. This changed my life. The doctor at that clinic was very friendly. He asked me a lot of questions about my health and life. A few sessions with this doctor helped me to realize that there is life after an HIV positive diagnosis. I accepted my status and began a new life knowing that I would need to be strong for myself.

After accepting my status the next thing was to learn how to deal with the stigima associated with being HIV positive. One day my roommate found my Anti-Retroviral (ARVs) and told everyone she could about it. A little while later, a guy came up to me and said, “l like you, you are a well behaved girl, multi-talented and focused. I wish I could date you but I cannot because of your HIV positive status”. Such moments taught me to be strong. Facing stigma firsthand and being able to stand up to it showed me the need to fight for others. During this time I also learnt that there were so many youth who were going through the same ordeal.

HIV testing facilities in Malawi 
© UNICEF Malawi/2011/Noorani

Since then, I have been counselling and mentoring young people living with HIV at Lighthouse clinic and other places. I help youth through the process of accepting their HIV status and encourage them to adhere to treatment. Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to a young lady aged 25, who upon learning that she was HIV positive almost committed suicide. Through counselling she changed her mind. Now she mentors other newly infected girls.

I have also spoken to over 400 adolescents at the annual gathering of all Lighthouse adolescents during their graduation transitioning to adult care. Present at the gathering were high level dignitaries from NGOs and stakeholders that assist in adolescent health services.

There is a lot of talk about how young people need to protect themselves from HIV. Now is the best time to let the youth meaningfully participate in dealing with the epidemic. Young people need to be equipped with comprehensive knowledge about HIV and need skills to allow them to reach out to others. As an intern at one of the NGOs in the country, I have had the opportunity to conduct prevention, care and treatment activities targeted at young people and women. Through this experience, I have realized that there is a lack of comprehensive information and knowledge on HIV. This fuels stigma and discrimination. The government needs to protect people living with HIV the same way it protects those that are not infected with the virus.

Living with HIV has taught me that my life is not defined by what is in my blood, I define it myself and I define who I want to be.

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