NOMSA NKANA, Lusaka
â€œI WAS careless and I am now reaping what I sowed,says â€ London Chuma who is now living positively with HIV.
Born in 1961, Chuma, formerly a truck driver lost his first wife and three children in the 90â€™s unaware of whether the deaths could have been HIV -related.
In those years, there was not much information on HIV/AIDS so he did not think of going for testing, he says.
He became a truck driver in 1998 and remarried in 2009 with two children.
Even before he started trucking, Mr Chuma was well aware of the challenges truckers go through on the road which sometimes require them to be away from their spouses for long periods.
On some of his trips, he would travel with a friend who usually engaged in sexual relations with prostitutes in his truck.
â€œMy truck was made in such a way that it had an upper deck which could be used for sleeping so this is where my friend would have his rendezvous with his women. At the time, I took it as a normal occurrence,â€ he says with contempt.
Being away from home for weeks on end, loneliness on the road sets in, Mr Chuma says, making long distant truck drivers a prime target for sex workers who market their services aggressively.
One fateful day in 2004, en route to South Africa using Chirundu border which is notorious for prostitution, Mr Chuma parked his truck waiting for clearance.
Thinking this was her lucky day, a prostitute walked over to his truck coercing Mr Chuma to travel with her and to also have sex with him.
Like Samson in the Bible who gave in to Delilahâ€™s lure, Mr Chuma fell for the bait and booked a room but used a condom. This would be his â€˜initiationâ€™ into a life of careless living which he would later pay for at a high price.
But being new at that lifestyle, he thought he would be safe if he had a permanent, faithful girlfriend, a decision he would come to realise in the future to be a fallacy as a prostitute can never be faithful.
Each time he took a trip through Chirundu, he would have sex with the prostitutes and this became his habit even at other borders. He had girlfriends wherever he could have one.
After a few times of using condoms, his lovers began demanding for sex without condoms.
One prostitute told him, â€œWhy condoms, donâ€™t you trust me,â€ and that was the day he threw caution to the wind by stopping to use condoms, a fatal decision which would cost him his health.
But in 2010, something began to happen to him which caught his attention. He was losing weight, sometimes having continuous diarrhoea, and also loss of appetite.
Realising something was wrong, he went to the hospital where he was advised to have an HIV test.
And after counselling, he took the test which came out positive for HIV. The world stood still but he had to go on and face his â€˜demons.â€™
Still in a state of shock and unbelief, he went for another test the following day which still came out positive for HIV after which he was put on antiretroviral therapy (ART). His wife and children also tested positive.
For a week Mr Chuma failed to eat as he tried to absorb the news. His health began to fluctuate sometimes getting better and at other times going downhill.
For nine months he failed to eat anything apart from drinking water forcing his health to deteriorate to alarming levels.
Despite being on treatment, Mr Chuma saw no change in his health and so did his family who suggested he visits a witchdoctor as the drugs he was taking did not seem to have any effect on him.
And as if the egyptian had befallen him, Mr Chuma says he could no longer walk or do anything for himself, his wife ran away from him and he subsequently lost his job.
Taking all that in his stride, he went back to the hospital where he was told to take a viral load test. (viral load testing is the standard in antiretroviral therapy (ART) monitoring as it measures the amount of HIV in the blood and indicates if a treatment regimen is working or not).
After taking the test, the results indicated he needed to have a change of medication.
Voila! The new regimen he was given is now working wonders for him, he says with glee.
His health has drastically improved, he has regained his weight and is now able to walk on his own.
Mr Chuma has now become an advocate for routine viral load testing and monitoring because it has saved his life despite his status still remaining positive for HIV.
He was recently giving his testimony at the launch of â€œBe Healthy, Know Your Viral Load,â€ campaign in Lusaka.
To his fellow truckers, Mr Chuma says, they should consider their families by behaving responsibly on the road.
â€œMy children are now sick because of my reckless behaviour. There is no permanent girlfriend among prostitutes but permanent destroyers. I canâ€™t even tell you to use condoms but to only abstain because it is possible. I am jobless today because I fell sick and could not work.â€
To married men Mr Chuma says, â€œPlease check the mode of transport that some of your wives are using when going on their cross borders businesses. Some women ask truck drivers to help take their goods across the border and the men would do it in exchange for sex.
When trucks are parked, truckers sleep on their trucks and what do you think happens in the night if they are with someone elseâ€™s wife? Remember, these truckers have been away from their wives for a prolonged period. Sincere business women use public transport because they are ready to pay for their goods borders. As a former trucker, I know what I am talking about.â€
NOMSA NKANA, Lusaka