Infected at birth, disclosure 20 years later

HELEN with musician and activist B Flow during the commemorations of the 2017 World AIDS Day at Kabwe Civic Centre. PICTURE: CHAMBO NG’UNI

HELEN Namwizo is beaming with life. She is 20 years old, and like most young woman her age, she is on a path of self-discovery.

She was infected with HIV at birth and having lived with the virus for 20 years, she has accepted her status.
After completing her Grade 12 last year at Broadway Secondary School in Kabwe, Helen is positioning herself for her future.
She is among hundreds of people living with HIV in Zambia. Without her disclosing her status, no one would know that she is HIV positive just by looking at her.
It is only after sharing her story that a turbulent past is revealed. While she was still a baby, her parents separated, and the early years of her life where filled with hospital visits as she was usually unwell.
She has been told that because of being constantly sick, her father one day took her for HIV testing.
The results come out positive.
However because of her tender age, her father never revealed to her that she was HIV positive because of stigma surrounding HIV.
Instead, his father who died in 2010 told her she was taking medicine every day so that she could stay in good health and grow taller.
“I came to know about my HIV status later on. I used to have sores all over my body, and dad decided to take me for testing but he did not tell me the results,” Helen said in a recent interview.
She is an inquisitive person, and one thing she enjoys doing is reading books to have in-depth knowledge and understanding on different subjects.
It is this inquisition that saw Helen read materials and learn about HIV and Aids. After reading more on the topic, Helen began to suspect that she could be HIV positive.
“Through reading, that’s how I came to suspect I was HIV positive. I asked my aunt, and she explained everything to me,” she said.
“I have been taking ARVs since I was three years,” Helen added.
At school, she never disclosed her status for fear of being stigmatised and discriminated upon.
Much as she wanted to open up about her HIV status to some of her friends, some pupils talked ill about people who are positive.
“I did not want to come out in the open at school because of discrimination,” she says.
“I did not like the way some pupils talked about people with HIV. Their talk was full of discrimination.”
During the commemoration of this year’s World Aids Day (WAD) at Kabwe Civic Centre on December 11, 2017, Helen went public about her status.
The 2017 WAD was held under the theme: “Together we can fight this pandemic”.
It was not easy but she disclosed her HIV status because she wanted to encourage people to go for HIV testing to know their status.
“I am encouraging you young people to go for HIV testing to know your status,” a brave Helen said in front of a large crowd who had gathered at Civic Centre.
Helen is happy that she is living a healthy lifestyle despite being HIV positive.
Reflecting on the 2017 WAD theme, Helen is confident that with concerted efforts and people adhering to HIV preventive measures, the pandemic will be eradicated.
Helen is positive that a cure for HIV is in sight. She is now a member of the Network of Zambian People Living with HIV/AIDS (NZP+) in Kabwe where she is a peer educator.
Her health status has moulded her character. She is positive about life and her passion is to make positive change in the lives of other people especially those living with HIV.
“HIV is not a disease but a virus. People should not be afraid to go for testing because if they are found to be positive, they will start treatment,” Helen said.
She wants to be a nurse or a clinic officer. However her major obstacle is not HIV but lack of sponsorship to go to college.

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