Owolabi came to the hospital with pains in his groin. Tests and examinations indicated he had hernia and required surgery. As preliminary procedure before the surgery, Owolabi was asked to do some blood tests. The test came back positive for HIV. A young doctor was sent to break the news and counsel Owolabi.
“Some diseases are incurable but not fatal,” the young doctor began trying to find a way to break the news but Owolabi just smiled and said “Small Doctor calm down. I know I am HIV+. I have been for four years.”
There are millions of people who are daily infected with HIV; hundreds of these fresh victims are deliberately infected by those close to them.
A bit of history suffices here. In the 1990s, campaigns against HIV/AIDs was hot, it was once predicted to be the disease that would wipe out humanity, that’s before Ebola showed up and scared the bejesus out of us. At first, HIV/AIDs was attributed only to people who were homosexuals; then straight people began to catch the disease like wild fire; children were being born with HIV, the world knew panic as the epidemic spread across continents, race, class and sexual orientation.
Victims of the disease were stigmatised. And since no one wanted to die early and from a shameful death for that matter, we began to pay attention to the messages, the Advertising campaigns, the public enlightenment and educational pieces that government institutions and private partners crafted to help us learn more about the disease. And thanks to the advent of anti-retrovirals, people living with HIV/AIDs began to enjoy a better quality of life, as these drugs help lower their viral load thus ensuring they are less susceptible to infection.
What the campaigns and messages didn’t teach though and should be made a law, is that victims of HIV/AIDs must inform people they are having sex with once their status is known.
Today, infected husbands are not revealing their HIV status to their wives, instead they continue to have unprotected sex with them thereby spreading the disease not just to their wives but to girlfriends and by extension their children. On the other hand, infected wives are also not revealing their status to their husbands, they are not telling that they caught the disease from casual flings that have turned to bite them in the ass, so they simply spread their legs when oga comes calling and the beat goes on…
So back to Owolabi. He knows he is HIV+. He is taking his meds and keeping his viral load down but there is a comma somewhere: he won’t tell his wife his condition because he fears she would leave him. So, he has been taking his drugs and exposing the mother of his children to the disease. Just think, what if Owolabi infects his wife? She dies, not knowing what hit her, he does too and the kids become orphans!
‘I can’t use condom with my wife, she will suspect…’ and indeed, she will, nothing should stand between a man and his wife, and yet, Owolabi wants this secret to follow him to his grave.
Owolabi is not alone, he just represents a disconcerting number of people living with the disease, people who imagine because they are on anti-retrovirals, they are unlikely to infect their partners. Some even say they are back to normal and so there is no risk of infecting anyone else.
In countries like Nigeria where procuring anti-retrovirals regularly is a task and on many occassions the drugs are simply unavailable, this presents a scary development. It means carriers are spreading the disease rapidly and we may soon have a crisis on our hands.
Now, men aren’t the only culprits here as many doctors will tell you, off record, women are too… and the number is growing. Housewives, girlfriends, single ladies…who have become aware of their status are still having unprotected sex with their partners.
Who wants her worldly goods thrown into the streets after a confession of being an Aids victim? Who wants to be the butt of nasty jokes from nosy neighbours after a confession that goes awry?
No, o… so her lips remain sealed.
Some have kept their secrets out of shame; many falsely believe that because they feel fine, they aren’t endangering their partners.
Here are some local myths about HIV:
Agbo can cure HIV: There’s no evidence to suggest that herbal treatments have helped cure HIV. In fact, taking herbal medicines can be counterproductive as these will not protect your immune system from infection and may interfer with ARVs if you are taking them alongside treatment.
With regular ARVs I can’t infect anyone: Some say because they have been on anti-retovirals, it means they can’t pass on the disease. Not true. The fact that you have undetectable diagnosis doesn’t mean you are cured, you still have HIV, it only means your viral load is low but once you skip your ARVs, you can infect another person.
I don’t feel sick: As HIV/AIDS no dey show for face, some who have no symptoms erroneously believe they are cured. Here’s a fact, you can have HIV in your body for 10-15 years without symptoms…then one day, it shows full force.
This is an appeal to victims of the disease; spread love, not HIV. Remember there’s still no cure for HIV/AIDs; if you must have sex, use a condom, biko.