In a recent interview in Abuja, the energetic 24-year-old recounted the frustrations of living as a pauper in addition to the ignominy of HIV stigma and discrimination.
Living with HIV stigma
Escape from home
One day I could not bear it again. The pressure was too much for me to bear. I had to break the window and jumped out to escape from home at the age of 12. I escaped to an unknown village called Oki. I went to Jabi Park in Abuja, I had only N800. I didn’t know where to go, but just wanted to leave and even die.
I wanted to die. I was in the bush; I had stopped using my drugs which at that time cost N15, 000 per month. Test for CD4 count was N6, 000, viral load N12, 000. Where was I going to get that kind of money? I wasn’t working, I just told God to let me die. Before then, I went to NTA and shared my story. I told them I was HIV positive; I wanted to declare my status to the world. They said I should cover my face, but I said no. I wanted the world to know my story so that if I die, everyone would know what killed me. Breaking the stigma is an individual thing. If you want to come out to testify, nobody can take that away from you
Then I met Dr. Anthony Agu, a lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. When he asked about my parents, I burst into tears. He took me to the University and I told him my story. He took me to his house, gave me a room to stay. But he told me not to disclose my status to his family. He enabled me continue my education and in 1996, I finished my school.
Back to treatment
Dr. Agu then told me that he heard that the drugs were now free that I should go and try. So I went back to Gwagwalada General Hospital where I met Dr. Ajayi. When he asked if I had been taken my drugs, I said yes. I lied to him because I was afraid that if I told him I had not been on drugs, he would send me away. But he placed me on the drugs. That night I went back to Nsukka, but never went back home. Dr. Ajayi got all my details and related to Dr. Pat Matemilola and Professor Babatunde Oshotimehin who were all looking for me. Eventually, it was Godwin Odemije of Radio Nigeria that came to look for me, and brought me back home. In 2006, I developed typhoid and ovarian cyst. Doctors said I would be operated upon because I stopped using my drugs for a number of years. To the glory of God, I’m still on firstline drugs.
HIV infection as blessing
God first, but the treatment has kept me alive till today. If there were no free drugs, by now, I would have been a forgotten issue. People would have forgotten me, my name would not be written anywhere. HIV has become a blessing to me. I am sitting with important people. If not for HIV, I would not meet Ministers, and Ambassadors and so many important people. If not for HIV, I would not have ever fly in an aircraft. I’m proud to be HIV positive. Today, I’m a testimony in my family, there is no meeting at which they do not seek my opinion. I’m proud that I’m HIV positive.
Make treatment available
The three zeros
Culled from Vanguard
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