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Being HIV Positive is not the End of the World

Onalethata Mpebe

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As a Treat All Champion, it is my mission to help people understand the importance of early HIV diagnosis and treatment, and to set an example of how to live positively with HIV.

When some people are newly diagnosed with HIV, the first thing they think about is how others will react. Some of them wonder if they will be rejected by their partners. I admit I also had these thoughts. You need to understand what your HIV diagnosis means for your life and what you need to do to be healthy and stay in control. There is a good life after HIV diagnosis. You are worthy of being loved and cherished, like everyone else. Being HIV positive does not mean you should settle for less.The first few weeks after being diagnosed, I just felt that it was the end of me. I wanted to start a relationship with the person who infected me, but then I just scratched off the whole idea.

I asked myself why I should settle for him just because I feared that others may reject me because of my HIV status. Whether HIV positive or negative, we all experience rejection at some point. It is true that for many of us living with HIV, it can be harder to get into a relationship. Everybody deserves to be loved whether they are HIV-positive or not. I know everyone hates being rejected by a boyfriend or girlfriend.

But we cannot let rejection determine our paths. I realized that the weight of other people’s opinions was burdening me. This worry inhibited me from living my life because my thoughts and actions are controlled by an idealized standard of what people want to see. When I become so obsessed with other people’s opinions of me, I forget that my opinions about myself are worth much more. All I wanted was to be free and live an open and honest life without caring what people would say.

You owe it to yourself to find happiness and live a positive life. If other people can do it, you can do it too.I am no less of a person because I have HIV. I can still dream big and live out those dreams. I will not let HIV take away my power. Instead, I have become empowered and risen to the challenge. There is no greater feeling or power than being able to stand up to your fears. Stand tall and say “I am not ashamed of being HIV positive!”

Those of you who are not living with HIV, encourage your HIV-positive partner. Help them to love themselves and take their treatment on time every day. This shows that you are a loving, caring and supportive partner. Adherence to treatment will lower your loved one’s viral load and ensure that they remain healthy and also reduce the risk of transmitting the virus during sex. Next week I look forward to sharing with you more about the benefits of viral suppression while taking treatment. See you then.

Onalethata Mpebe is a Treat All Champion working in partnership with the Gaborone DHMT at the Broadhurst Industrial Clinic (BTA) . She is available for counseling by appointment, please call her at 7151-7678.

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Positive Living

Have Faith in Your Treatment

Onalethata Mpebe

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Faith and health are both very important to me. Following my HIV diagnosis in 2014, I had to change the way I thought about my faith and my health. Even after I learned to accept my HIV status, I found myself wishing that God would cure me of HIV.

While I view my free antiretroviral treatment as a gift from God, I also have faith and hope that medical research will one day find the cure for HIV. It may be that God will bring us a cure through the work of researchers, but in the meantime I will be faithful to my ARVs, till death do us apart.

Many people have invited me to their churches claiming that their prophets will heal me. I refuse all these invites because I have seen the worst and I don’t want to be amongst those who die because they stopped taking their ARVs.

We must do more to open people’s eyes to the consequences of these beliefs. The reality is that many lives continue to be lost because some churches do not encourage and support their HIV+ members to adhere to their ARV treatment. A few weeks back, I saw an advert from a church inviting people to come to their crusade for healing.

The advert stated that “people with HIV, diabetes, and cancer will be healed.” I have met people who claim they were healed and stopped their ARVs after attending these kinds of events.
In some instances, these prophets will encourage people who they claim to have healed to do a rapid HIV test.

In a few cases, some of these people have tested HIV-negative, so it seems like scientific proof that indeed they are cured of HIV. What is critical for everyone to understand is that these rapid tests measure the presence of HIV-specific antibodies, they do not detect the virus itself.

Beginning treatment early and sustaining viral suppression will reduce the amount of HIV-specific antibodies such that the rapid test will produce a negative result, yet the person still is infected with HIV.

Moreover, those of us who have adhered to our treatment will have what is termed “undetectable viral load,” which simply means that the viral load test is not sensitive enough to detect the very small amount of HIV in our blood.

I have lost dear friends because of these prophets, and not only those who had HIV. One woman close to me who had breast cancer passed on because she refused to undergo any medical procedure. She went from one prophet to another in search of a miracle, even as she became worse by the day.

She kept on hoping the prophets would be able to heal her until her last breath. Apart from what the government is doing to set the record straight, each one of us can play an important role in educating ourselves about HIV and how it is treated.

Religion can give people hope and offer a strong support network, but it should not be used to deter people from accessing proven life-saving health services like HIV treatment. We will not be able to put an end to AIDS in Botswana if we do not work with all faith leaders and congregations to address this issue.

People of all faiths and religions, or no religion, should encourage and support HIV testing and treatment.

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Positive Living

Let’s Rise Above Batho Ba Tla Reng Syndrome

Onalethata Mpebe

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In your life, you will constantly be surrounded by people who will judge you day in and day out. They will gossip about you when you succeed, and they will criticize and mock you when you fail. It is an absolute certainty that batho ba tla reng (people will talk).

How you respond to this certainty makes a world of difference for your life. Unfortunately, many people respond by shaping their lives around the approval of other people. Today, I want to encourage you to avoid living this way, which is what I call the the batho ba tla reng syndrome. We must learn how to respond when confronted by family or friends who challenge our decisions with the phrase “but what will people say?”

For me, the key to positive living is focusing on what pleases God, not people. People can never be pleased, unless humbled and influenced by the grace of God. The day I decided to go public about my HIV+ status, I didn’t consult anyone or ask anyone if I should. On that day, I found myself alone in my room, struggling with many suicidal thoughts. I remember that while I was fighting these thoughts, something inside of me urged me to share my HIV status with the public.

I made the decision on my own, even though I knew that my family would object. I told my cousin, who was fine with it. I also told my sister, who was against it. I told her that I am doing this for myself, to be free. She said that she didn’t understand what I was going through, but was worried about how I will handle negativity. I told her, “I don’t know how I will handle it, but I will see as time goes on.”

My mother was furious to find out I had gone public after I did it. She said: “ke eng o tsamaya o ikgasakgasa, ntha batho mo ba re ba itseng ga ba itatsetatse mo” (why did you go public, most people we know [who are HIV positive] never did that.) Many other family members began criticizing me for going public, but I chose not pay attention to negative things people were saying about me. I found amazing power within me which allowed me to rise above all of the judgment and negativity. I started paying more attention on building myself up as an HIV activist and motivational speaker. As a result, I began living my life the way I wanted.

Living this way is not without sacrifice, but for me, it is the only way to achieve my destiny. I found out that some people who I loved were trying to distract me from my life’s purpose. I just had to sever ties with the naysayers in order to pave the way to a much better and healthier life. The more I ignored the negativity, the more I found positivity within me, and from people who supported me.

My readers, please do not fall victim to the batho ba tla reng syndrome. Stop worrying what others think or say about you. When you care about what others think of you, you give your power away. You effectively disempower yourself. Worrying about what others think of you is the number one reason why people experience stress, anxiety, and fear. This is why we see many people today failing to accept their HIV status, to disclose to their partner and family, to adhere to medication and live a healthy lifestyle. Some people still fail to get tested for HIV or to enroll on ARV treatment because they are trapped in the batho ba tla reng syndrome. We must continue to rise above it!

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