The highs and lows of a woman who has lived with the HIV virus for more than 20 years despite all negative talk about the disease back in the early years of HIV reports in Africa, tells the story of hope and faith:
Her wrinkled face is a testimony of the years she has lived. Tall and dark and dressed in her favorite kitenge dress, Huluka Mohammed walks confidently and smiles with everyone she comes across.
Twenty years ago, this 56-year-old mother of nine braved the stigma to publicly declare her HIV status when no one dared to do it for fear of discrimination from the society.
She came at the TAMWA offices when she met this reporter.
“I got infected with the virus 23 years ago when little was known about HIV/Aids. It was referred to killer disease in the early days.
There was a lot of discrimination about the disease and those who infected or thought to be suffering from it were regarded as cursed people or simply people with no morals in the society,” Huluka told me.
In 1989 Huluka gave birth to a baby girl at the Aga Khan Hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
“That year God blessed me with a bubbling baby girl and she was doing fine but as time passed by, she started falling sick frequently.
At six months, her health condition was deteriorating.
This forced me to take her to the hospital and that is how the doctors told me that my baby was HIV positive,'' she narrated, memories that broke her heart.
'' This really took me by surprise, there was nothing they could do and I started questioning the doctors about how this was possible? That’s when I was informed by the doctors that I
had passed the virus to her, meaning I was HIV positive, something that I never expected.”
And it did not end there. She jumped from one misfortune to another and her husband chased her away with her six- month old baby.
“My husband disowned me and the baby, throwing us out of our matrimonial home and I had nowhere to go. I became very desperate as I depended on him. I was a house wife. He told me to leave together with the baby and accused me of immorality.
I was forced to seek refuge with my family, and I was lucky that they did not abandon neither did they discriminate me. At the time, anyone found with the disease was looked down upon chased, rejected or even killed. But my family accepted me with open hands,” she said.
But amid the relief of the support from her family, it appears other challenges came her way.
“After 14 years, I lost my daughter to HIV related illnesses and this left me devastated. It was hard to accept the news and soon after my immune system became weak. My CD4 counts dropped from 300 to 60.
Soon after she tells me, she was put on anti retroviral drugs (ARVS) to date. The drugs are meant to slow down the progress of multiplication of the HIV virus in the body. The drugs are also
meant to slow down the damage to your immune system. Once the virus is reproducing at a slower rate, it is less able to harm your
immune system. If your immune system is functioning properly, your body is less likely to become sick. Your immune system is your body's defense system against infection.
ARV’s slow down the damage to your immune system, if they are used properly and they allow you to live a longer and a healthier life.
But what kept her going, I asked. “I am happy with my status and I accepted it, I don’t ask myself questions such as why me, who infected me, such questions will only take you to your grave early and I mind my business and to me I consider that is a waste of time.”
Years after the infection, Huluka struggled to educate her last born son aged 24 today, the son is studying law, “ I am happy that I have seen my son through school and now a second year student at the university studying law. I have struggled to pay school fees through the small income that I get from frying fish to sometimes sewing traditional
African cloths (vitenge’s),” she tells me with her smile on her face.
In 2002 with the help of the Tanzanian Association of Media Women,
(TAMWA) encouraged them a group of men and women to come out in public with the aim of fighting the disease that was silently killing people in Tanzania
“In 2002 in a group of 20 people both men and women living with the virus, we decided to go public with our status so that we could tell and inform people that its true HIV is here with us, the news was captured in all stations and newspapers across the country, we were doing this to enlighten the community on the effect of the disease,” she narrated.
Today Ms Huluka is a counselor at her local area of Bunju and offers hope and courage to the affected and counsels young people on the importance of being faithful to one's partner, safe sex, knowing one's status and staying positive.
Ms Huluka's is one of many people hoping for a cure for HIV AIDS one day.
“I would, one day, despite my old age, like to see 100 percent cure for HIV, a disease that has brought shame, pain, suffering, stigma and discrimination in the society,” she concluded.
Stigma and discrimination in Tanzania is quite high and less people know about their rights to health care. This has lead to many patients with the
HIV viruses mistreated and stigmatized by the society and eventually face immature deaths.
According to a research carried out in 2010 by the Tanzania Commission for Aids (TACAIDS), 130, 000 new infections occur annually in the country and 1. 5 million people have already living with HIV/Aids.
There have been numerous trials to finding a cure for HIV with less or little success. Only recently did a team of scientists from the United States approved the use of Truvada, one of the ARVS drugs.
This is after showing its effectiveness in combating the spread of the disease by 90 percent.
The drug helps HIV positive from infecting their partners when engaging in unprotected sex. But they also warn that the drug has to be taken on daily basis by the HIV + partner.
Indeed, Huluka is the best example today of an HIV survivor with true testimonies that HIV related and untimely deaths canbe prevented not only in Tanzania, but also worldwide and this can only be achieved if one accepts his status and battle to make the virus inactive as a way of avoiding their immune system drop.