CHIMWEMWE MWALE, Lusaka
SHE is jovial, calm and collected. Her youthful looking face is still bright, contrasting the touching story of her life from 1992 when she was born HIV-positive and later became blind in 2002.
Nsofwa Sampa, 22, of Lusaka says she had always wondered why she was taking medication and treated differently during her childhood.
She narrated recently that she awoke to reality when she stumbled into a medical record file which her uncle kept in the house.
This was after losing her mother who died in 2002 and was now being kept by the uncle.
Nsofwa started taking ARVs at the age of 11 and was puzzled why she was taking medication when other children at home were not.
â€œI was born HIV positive and I came to know my status when I was 10, and it wasnâ€™t a bother to me. It only became a bother when I started growing as a teenager,â€ she narrated.
Nsofwa said she later â€˜sunkâ€™ into self-stigma and depression because some people would put it to her that she was infected with HIV.
â€œFrom the time I read my medical details about my infection, I never wanted anything to do with HIV/AIDS and anybody to talk about my health, and if anybody talked about it, I would take offence. I went through self-stigma for a long time especially after learning that AIDS still had no cure.
â€œWhen I went into secondary school, a friend of mine confronted me after discovering my drugs and asked if they were ARVs. That got into my head and I decided to throw away my medicines as a result of her question,â€ Nsofwa recalled.
At this point, the whole school learnt about her status and at one point ended up sleeping alone in the dormitory as other pupils had deserted the sleeping quarters.
She regretted going into boarding school as her fellow pupils openly stigmatised her.
Nsofwa did not know how to handle stigma in school because no one had ever counselled her on her status.
â€œThe only thing I knew at that time was that the only way one could have HIV was through promiscuity but I was not [promiscuous] and I didnâ€™t remember myself being pierced with any sharp instrument,â€ Nsofwa said.
One of her aunts engaged HIV/AIDS activist and renowned doctor Mannaseh Phiri to explain how she could handle her status positively.
It was then that Dr Phiri revealed to her that she had contracted the virus from her mother.
â€œI think this is when my head opened up and I realised that maybe that is why she died. Had I known earlier that I got it from mum, all that denial and stigma were not going to arise. I had at this time resisted to the drugs and my decision was to die,â€ she said.
Nsofwa said Dr Phiri also advised her aunt to openly discuss the matter as a family as this was the only way she was going to open up as well.
In 2009, Nsofwaâ€™s health deteriorated with opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis. She was in coma in hospital for about three weeks.
â€œWhen I gained consciousness, I realised that I needed to talk to somebody. The person on the next bed had died, we were in the same shoes, she was [HIV] positive and had died but I was alive. This is when I resolved to fight for my life,â€ she recounted.
On November 20, 2009, Nsofwa who was now in grade 11, was put on treatment administered through a drip but she unfortunately lost sight five days later.
This depression her and it was a setback to her resolve to fight the virus.
â€œI blamed God and said how can I have HIV and you take away my sight? I said this is not fair but after I thought about it, I prayed and cried about it. One day I woke up and said I have something worse in my body than blindness and if it means fighting, I will have to,â€Â Nsofwa said.
Nsofwaâ€™s focus was to get back to school after being discharged from hospital. But continuing education posed a new challenge of learning braille.
Braille is a tactile writing system used by visually impaired persons. It is traditionally written with embossed paper.
â€œI went to Munali [special school] where they told me I had to learn braille and I then went to the Zambia Library for the Visually Impaired in Chilenje where I learnt braille.
â€œI discovered that there were a number of people that had just lost sight and I had never heard of braille before,â€ Nsofwa said.
Nsofwa urged parents and guardians to disclose and discuss the status of their HIV positive children before they discover on their own.
She said the disease burden is easier for the victim to shoulder if family members openly discuss issues surrounding HIV/AIDS.
Nsofwa also hailed Save the Children International for supporting organisations such as Latkings which is currently promoting childrenâ€™s rights and providing sexual reproductive services to adolescents.
â€œThe earlier someone knows they are positive the better because if they are told especially by the family and you are able to talk about it freely, it becomes easier even for society to accept you,â€ Nsofwa said.
Nsofwa contends that one of the most effective ways of fighting HIV/AIDS is through acceptance of its reality and living positively.
CHIMWEMWE MWALE, Lusaka