When Mr. Salisu learnt that he had the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, he was within the whirlwind of his thoughts and emotions. The experience was a mental and emotional rollercoaster in coming to terms with the new reality.
Experts, however, said early detection, access to care and treatment can help reduce HIV-related mortality.
Salisu, who has been living with the virus for almost 26 years, agrees that living with HIV, undoubtedly, has its turbulent storms and calm waters; but it doesn’t define him.
Hence, he turned living with HIV from a perceived weakness into strength.
A horrid journey
Ahmed said at first, it was a horrid and a very torrid journey.
“It started with persistent fever, cough, and all the symptoms of the disease. I took local herbs to control the cough but all to no avail, I used some unorthodox drugs and then, I will be relieved for like three days and it will reoccur again and someone suggested that I go for a test.
“When I did at the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria, the result came out positive.
“Then, I went to the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano, for a confirmatory test.”
Despite the confirmatory result, Mr. Ahmed lived in denial of his status for years before he came to terms with his diagnosis and the reality of living with HIV.
“I was wondering how I got it. I denied it for some certain years until I went to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba, for the third confirmatory test. It was here in Lagos that a doctor counselled me to be placed on Antiretroviral Drugs.
“So, I celebrate every 30th of April like my birthday because it’s the day I was placed on HIV drugs, which is a week after I was diagnosed,” he said.
He said he never knew how he contacted the virus.
‘I had to start life all over again’
Ahmed had his fair share of stigmatisation and rejection from people, including his family members.
“My wife moved out with our two children. I had to start life all over again. I don’t blame the poor woman, she acted based on the information available then because there wasn’t sufficient information; people were not well-informed then. Unlike now that there are enough information and sensitisation.
“In fact, she died 16 years after leaving me but she didn’t die of HIV-related infection,” the 59-year-old man said.
When our correspondent visited him at his residence in Ikorodu, Lagos, he said he made a decision to live positively with the virus rather than being defeated by it.
He’s now confident in his future and wants to pass his learning and support on to others.
He is also happy that his two children are doing well in their academics.
Salisu is doing well and now works as a caregiver and HIV counsellor at LUTH, where he interacts with other people living with HIV.
“What kills is not even the stigma from others but self-stigmatisation. If you don’t stigmatise yourself, no one can stigmatise you and when they do, it is insignificant to you.
“I feel normal, It is just like you are having a kind of blood or you have a stain in the bloodstream. It is not stopping me from my psychological or psychosocial interaction,” he said.
“I advocate for the cause because if I can make it, then others can make it. It is better they learn from those who have been living with it and become productive.
“We encourage people to also see the other side of life that it is not a death sentence. The only way forward is to move on with life.
“Not going for test or medication is like sitting on a keg of gun powder. If you go for the test on time, it will quickly be detected and treatment will start immediately but when you are in a state of denial, then you are calling for a problem from the virus because the virus doesn’t kill but it is essential to be proactive as well.
“Self-denial could lead to other infections that could be more dangerous than other infections,” he said.
There’s life after a positive HIV diagnosis
Salisu openly discloses his status and encourages his peers to adhere to treatment and live positively with HIV.
According to him, there’s life after a positive HIV diagnosis and with treatment, one can live a normal, long, and healthy life.
“Take the drugs when necessary. As a man when you are taking it, you’ll be doing better and as a woman, you won’t transmit the virus to your partner. The drugs are very effective.
“I feel cool, sharp, and alright because my viral load has become undetectable and that means the virus is undetectable in me and untransmittable. This is why adherence is key.
“People just need to summon the courage to do HIV test and know your status, if you’re negative today, you need to come back in six weeks’ time to know your status again.
“So, we tell people to get tested despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The truth is that we have come to live with these viruses at the same time but we have to learn to live with both and you can live with them without getting yourself into big trouble,” he advised.
The Antiretroviral Therapy Coordinator and HIV Clinician at the General Hospital, Lagos, Dr. Samuel Alori said early detection, access to care and treatment can help reduce HIV-related mortality in the country.
According to him, reducing deaths among People Living with HIV is multifactorial and patients must ensure that they comply with taking their drugs.
Speaking in an interview with PUNCH HealthWise, he said “those who test positive to HIV must be on ARV, must be retained in care and those that are retained must ensure that they comply with taking their drugs accordingly.
“95 percent of those on ARV must have their viral loads suppressed and it must be less than 1000 copies per milliliter.
“They should take their drugs regularly as at when due, go for their tests as recommended and disclose to their status to their partners and conquer stigmatisation and discrimination,” he said.
The expert said if the medication is taken as prescribed; it reduces the amount of HIV in the body to a very low level, keeps the immune system working, prevents illness, and reduces the risk of transmission.
“If your viral loads are suppressed the possibility of transmitting it is minimal. It is also important to adhere to other preventive measures like abstinence from sex, use of condoms.
“Those who present at the healthcare facilities late risk being critically-ill but they are advised to go to the nearby healthcare facilities so they can take care of the opportunistic infections.
“What kills people most are the opportunistic infections and not HIV itself. It is essential they visit the healthcare facilities so that they can manage opportunistic infections and treatment.
“They have to make themselves available for the treatment of the opportunistic infection like tuberculosis, cryptococcal meningitis, skin infections, oral candidiasis, and other viral infections
“If they are sick and coming down with severe shortage of blood, they should go for treatment at the appropriate healthcare facilities,” Alori noted.
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