The face of HIV/Aids has been diverse world over. Some infected persons are too traumatised that they withdraw from life and let themselves waste away, more like committing ‘slow’ suicide.
Others go for the unthinkable; they try to “die with as many as people in a feat of vengeance”—no one ever quite understands what their revenge is for, anyway. Yet others still will quietly live with the virus while fighting it in the privacy of their lives.
However, for Julius Kamembe, HIV/Aids can be accepted as a lifestyle. In this sense, it means going public about one’s sero status and joining the campaign to create awareness about the incurable disease.
Kamembe, 38, a resident of Gahanga Sector in Kicukiro District, found out he was HIV-positive while on the verge of death. By then, his wife had passed on and the three children they sired together all succumbed to the disease.
“It was on her deathbed that she told me that she was infected with the virus. It hit me too hard; I couldn’t believe it. We had lived together for years; I looked really healthy despite her wasting her away. It was hard to fathom all these things so I chose the path of denial,” he says.
But like pregnancy that we can’t conceal from public forever, HIV is a virus that eats up its victims and leaves them to eventually surrender. Kamembe soon found himself wasting away. In 2007, he decided to brave the test kit at Central University Teaching Hospital, Kigali (Chuk). He was positive. The world seemed to crush under his feet, even though he had gone to it expecting the worst.
“I thought I could die because I felt so useless. That was the height of helplessness. However, later on, I received counselling from the hospital and started feeling myself again,” Kamembe reminisces.
“I started treatment in June 2009 with CD4 cell count of less than 100. (a normal CDA count is not less than 350 cells per cubic millimetres of blood) so the doctors put me on food supplements and told me to concentrate on ARVs . After six months, in December 2011, I had improved to 139 cells. My doctor was impressed and said I was on the right track. He kept on monitoring me and treating me for opportunistic diseases such as andida, sore throat, fever and cough.”
Kamembe was also encouraged to eat well and have a positive mindset. In June 2012, he had another CD4 count test and, this time, it had risen to 315. He was growing stronger, he says, and malignant ailments like skin rash were fading slowly.
Today, Kamembe, who is all smiles and consider positive living a kind of lifestyle of its own, says if one has the positive attitude and follows medical advice, they can live with HIV/Aids and still look healthier than normal persons.
“In February, I did another CD4 count test and my cells were at 372, which the doctors said was normal range,” he says. “My doctor told me to continue eating a balanced diet, drink enough water, take enough rest, exercise daily or at least thrice a week, maintain a positive attitude and keep praying. He encouraged me to consult him if I had any discomfort or illness. This alone gave me more strength to carry on. Today, I am so blessed to be working and waiting on a miracle from God to heal.”
Advice to HIV-positive people
Kamembe draws from his own experience and how he approached the battle against the most dreaded disease to urge others who might find themselves in similar predicaments. He had to painfully appreciate the fact that he was sick and could not reverse the situation, so he says people who test positive should change their mindset and live positively, take medical advice seriously and strive to live on a healthy and balanced diet.
“There is no excuse for not exercising. Do it regularly. Watch the food supplements you take as some companies are just after making money and keep away from people who want to bring you down. If you have a job, work with a vision,” he says.
“Live carefully and avoid being reckless, selfish and inconsiderate of the safety of others. Learn to for give who ever infected you with HIV, whether accidentally or intentionally. Learn to read self-help books for encouragement, forgiveness and happiness.”
According Dr Morris Nyakalundi, a gynaecologist at Chuk, people living positively with the virus should take extreme precautions to avoid spreading the disease.
During sex, the chance of HIV transmission from a man to a woman is two to three times greater than transmission from a woman to a man. This is due to the biological make up of the female genital tract.
The female genital tract is made up of a larger exposed area. Semen has higher viral load than vaginal fluids and the semen stays longer in the female genital tract after sex, which increases the chances of HIV transmission. It has also been proved that the genital tract of young girls is immature and more prone to HIV infection.