Contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS is one thing, but agreeing to live with it is another. The latter, is much more complicated and probably the most difficult one. It needs not only a social-psycho logical support from experts, but also an individual’s readiness to admit the reality…
If Kulwa Saimon (23), had not agreed to face the reality, he would have not been a smiling boy today.
Kulwa, a resident of Mlandizi area, Coast Region, some 100 kilometres from Dar es Salaam was born with HIV in 1988. His young brother, Doto, died in 1999 of HIV-related complications.
Mlandizi which is along the Dar-Morogoro Highway is a fast growing busy sub-town which is popular stop-over for long-distance truck drivers. Just as many such areas along the highway, Mlandizi is believed to be one of the hot beds for promiscuous activity and subsequently having high prevalence of HIV-Aids.
Until 1997, Kulwa was already in the orphans’ category. While his father died back in 1990, his mother passed away seven years later. According to an HIV/AIDS/STI Surveillance report (Jan-Dec, 2005) of the National AIDS Control Programme (NACP), 90 percent of HIV infection in children below 15 years of age is due to Mother-To-Child Transmission (MTCT).
The boy currently weighs 36kg thanks for life-supporting drugs ARVs which he started taking six years ago.
“When I started ARVs, I weighed hardly 18 kilogrammes. This was a very weak weight that forced medical experts to advise that I better start with syrup before I embark on pills,” says Kulwa in his testimony.
“Slowly, I started gaining weight. By 2008 I already weighed 28kg. To me, this was like a miracle as I never expected to recover from the ailments that used to attack me causing my body to shrink and become weak.”
From his childhood, Kulwa was a permanent victim of diseases such as pneumonia, severe abdominal pains and malaria. “I never enjoyed life since my childhood,” recalls Kulwa.
The soft spoken Kulwa, currently accesses his ARVs and other support from Mlandizi Health Centre. He feels that if it was not for his courage and openness, probably, he might have died a long time ago. “ I encourage my colleagues to take up HIV tests regularly and accept whatever outcomes.”
As a result o f his openness, Kulwa has been enjoying various forms of support. He says: “ I own a stationery shop, thanks for the support I got from well-wishers.”
While the organization he mentioned as KIKODET enabled him to accomplish a computer training course, another organization, ICAP International Care for AIDS Programme facilitated him to acquire a computer set, printer and scanner.
“With this boost, I can feed myself. At least I can afford basic needs to keep going on,” says Kulwa. He further notes: “However, I am not discouraging other friends who feel like helping me. Please, your support is still important.”
Kulwa’s story dates as far back in 2004 when a team of medical experts on a mobile visit popped at Mlandizi area to render HIV-related services. The team was made up of experts from PASADA centre based in Chang’ombe, Dar es Salaam. PASADA is the acronym for ‘Pastoral Activities and Services for People with AIDS in Dar es Salaam.’
Speaking last week, Kulwa said, as ‘messengers of hope’, the team “met my church leaders to express their motive. They queried whether there was any member among the congregation who was HIV positive.”
Immediately, he recalls, the priest responded: “How did you know? Anybody hinted you?...Yes, here we have an HIV-positive boy. Really, he needs your support.”
From this turning point, Kulwa was connected with PASADA counselors. He recalls that the counseling task was soft on his side, since what he needed was anybody to give him the relief. “ When the PASADA people asked ff I was ready to take up the HIV test and accept whatever results, I responded with a ‘Yes!.’
“I remember to have told them, if you are able to provide me with medication and food to make me free from this agony, definitely, I am ready for any results,” Recalls Kulwa, whose sister had vehemently opposed his engagement with PASADA or any other HIV related care-givers.
Kulwa joins the expanding list of Tanzanians currently on ARVs and who are doing quite well.
According to the Tanzania Commission for AIDS (TACAIDS), by September 2010, some 700,086 People Living with HIV and AIDS (PLHIV) were enrolled into care and treatment clinics all over Tanzania while 360,783 PLHIV were already initiated on ART. The national prevalence rate is put at 5.7 percent down from 7.2 percent which prevailed for the past ten years.
More than 5 million Tanzanians have undergone VCT: about 4.3 million or more tested during the President Jakaya Kikwete’s National VCT Campaign in the 2007-2008 period. However, there is still a lot of stigma attached to HIV testing.
Despite availability of VCT for a long time, uptake of services has remained low, observed Dr Subilaga Kasesela of TACAIDS/UN in one of her presentation recently. She said, currently, only 37 percent of women and 27 percent of men in the country know their HIV serostatus.