For thirty years , thousands of warriors, among them patients , carers and healthcare workers have fought this ravaging disease. The early days of the battle were bleak but as research brings new treatments and knowledge, hope and recovery is here with the promise of victory on the horizon.
Today, we remember the struggle of all the heroes of HIV/AIDS – those who died before we figured how to treat or before treatment could get to them, the many health workers and researchers who sacrifice so we can have solutions, the many aid organizations who have donated so much to the cause in vulnerable groups (PEPFAR, UNAIDS, WHO etc) and the silent ones- the caregivers of people living with HIV. We commit to continuing the struggle to achieve an HIV-free world.
Growing up, I was sternly warned by the adults around me not to share cups , needles, haircare instruments and other sharp objects with strangers. This helped me stay safe outside the home. The stigma then was however rife and thus led to high rates of transmission. There were scary stories of people who knowingly infected others. Just imagine if they had received the care and support they so badly needed. Perhaps the most vivid memory of that time was a neighbour of ours named Dogo. (This is an Hausa word for one who is tall). He was a lanky giant of a man and was loved by us all. One day, he fell sick. After a while it was revealed he had HIV.
I didn’t have much details about his treatment. I watched him deteriorate and lose so much weight. Then the harrowing coughs began. By just listening to them, you could feel the depths of his pain. His eyes gradually lost their sparkle, his wide grin ebbed in radiance until all that remained was a hollow husk of the kind and lively man we once knew . Sadly, after months of fighting this disease, he was taken up North by a relative. A few weeks later, we got word that Dogo had died.
He couldn’t have been more than thirty-five.
That devastating experience made the disease very real for me. I knew first hand how it could cut promising lives short in their prime.
I remember having VCT (voluntary counselling and testing) as a medical student. That was the fourth time I was getting tested (two previous ones were for university entrance health registration and one at a blood donation exercise). The healthcare worker asked me what I would do if it came out positive. I replied, “I’d commence treatment immediately and continue living my life as normally as possible.”She smiled and continued teaching me and my colleagues how to carry out the test.
I sensed her mild surprise. She may have expected me to say the common Nigerian refrain of ‘God forbid!’ What she didn’t know was that I had seen the worst of it as a child and knew this happened only when treatment was not started on time and when the patient faced stigma. I knew that facing a positive diagnosis with courage could make a huge difference.
I was not afraid.
I remember having VCT (voluntary counselling and testing) as a medical student. That was the fourth time I was getting tested…….
Being a part of HIV/AIDS awareness walks, campaigns and community health outreaches as a volunteer for non-governmental organization has kept me aware of the need to continue education and not relent until we end this disease. I still have one of the campaign T-shirts. For years, it has kept this message alive for me and others.
As a physician, I have seen colleagues who got exposed but got prompt and timely access to PEP (post exposure prophylaxis) medication which contains the virus before it can spread in the blood . Sadly this is not always available in Nigeria and thus, many healthcare workers have become infected while trying to save lives. I myself have had quite a few scares in the line of work. This hazard is always present inspite of observing universal precautions. There is always that delirious or aggressive patient, the crying and kicking child, the honest mistakes that lead to these accidents.
Needle pricks are real and scary!
I have also worked on obstetric and gynaecology teams where our HIV positive pregnant mothers were able to deliver babies free of the virus. This was only possible with the full cooperation of these brave mothers who got tested or reported their status early and were fully involved in all stages of the PMTCT* programme. They made the work easier for us their doctors. The joy on everyone’s faces when the baby’s results come in negative is immeasurable.(*Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission)
Being HIV positive is not a death sentence. With prompt treatment and an absence of stigma, you can lead your best life; get a degree, have a great career, get married, have HIV-negative children and be happy!
-View my Twitter thread on World AIDS Day here
-These organizations do great work in HIV/AIDS
AidsHealth Nigeria and Network of People Living With HIV/AIDS
-Watch this UK MP Lord Russell-Moyle give this powerful speech about coming out as HIV-positive in the House of Commons in this video.
I know my status because I go for VCT regularly. You can too by visiting the nearest health centre or clinic near you.
Know your status.
Spread the knowledge not the virus.
Thanks to contributors – Adefola Toye, Adetola Toye. ( No, this is not a mistake. They are two different people)