NKOMBO KACHEMBA, Kitwe
IT IS a journey that many people dread but for Chipulu Mulenga, 24, of Luangwa Township, going for Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) was not an option but an exercise which she had to undertake for the sake of her unborn child.
Ms Mulenga recalls how on May, 19, last year, her and her husband hurriedly prepared for a visit to Luangwa clinic for HIV testing as per requirement when one is an expectant mother.
As the jovial couple trekked to Luangwa clinic, they laughed and joked and also reminisced about what their unborn child would look like.
When the couple entered the premises of the VCT centre at the clinic, they were quickly ushered into one of the rooms, where counselling sessions were conducted before an HIV test could be administered.
But when the results were availed to the couple, it was not exactly what they had expected, as Ms Mulenga was told that she was HIV -positive, while the results of her husband were negative.
Gripped with grief, fear and confusion, Ms Mulenga had to be brave and endure another counselling session, while struggling to hold back her tears.
â€œWhen the medical officer who was counselling us told me that I was HIV-positive, I got scared and I had lost my temper. I was also confused, especially after being told that my husbandâ€™s results were non-reactive,â€ she narrated.
Ms Mulenga explained that immediately, she was put on anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment and that upon leaving the clinic, she went straight to her parents in Kitweâ€™s ZAMTAN area to explain her predicament.
Ms Mulenga said her parents then summoned her husband to hear his views on the matter.
â€œMy husband came for a meeting at my parentsâ€™ home and he assured them that he was going to take care of me and our unborn child,â€ she said.
Ms Mulenga explained that after going back to her matrimonial home, she noticed some changes in her husbandâ€™s behaviour.
She narrated that her husband would deny her conjugal rights most of the times and that she had to force him to perform his marriage rights.
Ms Mulenga explained that when she went to deliver at ZAMTAN clinic, the medical officers tested her for HIV but that the results were non-reactive.
She said medical officers at ZAMTAN advised her to continue taking the ARVs until further instruction from her provider.
She said upon delivering, she had to do further tests to find out what her real HIV status was, following a revelation at ZAMTAN clinic that she was HIV-negative.
Ms Mulenga said when counsellors from New Start Centre came to Luangwa clinic, she took another HIV test, which was also non-reactive.
She said when she went for family planning at Luangwa clinic, another HIV test was conducted, which also came out negative.
â€œBefore one is put on any family planning, an HIV test is conducted. The officers I found at the family planning section tested me for HIV and again my results were non-reactive,â€ she said.
Ms Mulenga quickly showed this reporter a piece of paper with a date stamp, showing HIV results with words â€˜non-reactiveâ€™ written on it.
Armed with enough evidence, Ms Mulenga confronted medical officers at the VCT centre at Luangwa clinic, who also did their own tests, which also confirmed that she was HIV-negative.
Ms Mulenga said upon realising their mistake, the medical officers at Luangwa clinic allegedly tore her card, which she used when getting ARVs from the centre and advised her to stop taking the drugs.
Ms Mulenga wants justice to prevail in this matter because of the anguish and emotional distress she has undergone due to the wrong diagnosis of her HIV status.
â€œMy marriage is on the verge of collapse. My husband no longer supports us. He calls me â€˜sickâ€™ and he no longer provides for the family. Right now I donâ€™t even know the status of my body because of the drugs I have been taking,â€ she said amidst sobs.
Ms Mulenga said when she started taking ARVs, she would normally sleep for long hours and sometimes experience â€˜blackoutsâ€™ and collapse.
She is appealing to well-wishers to help her seek justice and wants to go for medical check-ups to determine her well-being because of the drugs she had been taking.
Meanwhile, husband of the victim, Michael Mulenga, 36, said he was shocked to learn that her wife was diagnosed with HIV when his results were non-reactive.
â€œWhen my wife tested positive for HIV, I was shocked because that is not what I was expecting. However, I was counselled by the medical officer and advised how I should take care of my expectant wife. The medical officer also told us that we are discordant couples,â€ Mr Mulenga explained.
He said he had to continue living with his wife because of her status and had to offer emotional support.
Mr Mulenga, however, said his wife always accuses him of conniving with the nurses at Luangwa clinic to swap the HIV results.
He said when they went to test for HIV, his results were put on the left side of the table, while those of his wife were on the right and ruled out the possibilities of having them swapped.
â€œI am ready to take another HIV test just to prove to my wife that I am HIV-negative because she always accuses me of having our results swapped,â€ Mr Mulenga said.
He said he is aware of wifeâ€™s wrong diagnosis of her HIV status but had not had time to escort her to the clinic because of his busy schedule.
So far, the Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) Copperbelt coordinator Sharon Chisanga has come in to work with Ms Mutale on her case.
The Association is not happy that medical personnel at Luangwa clinic allegedly tore Ms Mulengaâ€™s card, which could have been used as evidence in the case.
But this should not discourage the association, which believes Ms Mulenga still has a strong case against Luangwa clinic because she still had the drugs and her particulars are still in the database.
â€œWe are working on this case and for sure this lady has to be compensated for being put on anti-retroviral treatment when she is not even HIV-positive. We have to see the sister-in-charge at Luangwa clinic so that we can start building the case,â€ Ms Chisanga said.
And Zambia National Womenâ€™s Lobby chairperson Beauty Katebe is calling for discipline against the medical practitioner who placed Ms Mulenga on ART despite being HIV-negative.
Ms Katebe wants Ms Mulenga to follow the matter closely and seek justice for the danger posed to her health.
â€œMedical practitioners have ethics, which they must follow. They must be sure of what they are giving people. Ms Mulenga has a case and we feel she must follow it to the latter, for justice to prevail,â€ she said.
The Ministry of Health is investigating Ms Mulengaâ€™s case and she has to undergo testing to establish the authenticity of her claims before any action is taken according to Copperbelt provincial medical officer Consity Mwale.
â€œWe have to test Ms Mulenga for HIV again before we make any conclusion. If she tests negative for HIV, we will have to do other tests as well just to make sure her claims are conclusive,â€ he said.
An explanation by Dr Mwale states that the management of HIV/AIDS in clinics on the Copperbelt is standardised and there are quality checks in the system.
When a client tests positive for HIV, another test, a confirmatory test, is conducted to verify the results.
Dr Mwale said the kits used in testing for HIV have been scientifically tested to meet the minimum standards by scientists in the diagnostic and science laboratories.
While Mulengaâ€™s case is the first one of its kind Dr Mwale has handled ever since he resumed office , he has assured the Ministry of Health will thoroughly investigate it.
Findings will soon be availed to members of the public.
And when asked the effects of the ARVs on a person who is HIV negative, Dr Mwale said the client may become resistant to the drug.
He further explained that a person taking ARVs but who is not HIV-positive may experience the same symptoms as the person who has the virus.
â€œIf a person is on anti-retroviral treatment, the drugs may affect the liver and the kidney, depending on the quantity consumed,â€ Dr Mwale said.
NKOMBO KACHEMBA, Kitwe