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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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My Journey

Reginah Galebole

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My HIV diagnosis came at a time when stigma was still very high. In fact, when I first got the news, I sentenced myself to an early death. I let go of almost all my life plans and began living one day at a time. I became extra cautious of my looks for fear of being diagnosed by my friends before I could disclose to any of them. I wanted to make sure that even in my death, I would still look good.

Looking back, I think the best thing I did was committing to taking good care of myself. I didn’t wait for my CD4 to drop below 200, the cut-off point for ARV enrolment in those days. Instead, I convinced the doctor to start me on treatment right away, not realizing that 15 years later the world would recognize the crucial importance of starting treatment immediately at diagnosis. Since the adoption of Treat All in June 2016, every Motswana who is diagnosed with HIV can begin treatment regardless of their CD4 count. No fear, no illness, no waiting.

I am a powerful testimony of the benefits of early treatment. After 17 years, I have never experienced any decline in my CD4 count and my viral load has remained undetectable. Also, I have not fallen seriously ill.

The longer I live with HIV, the more I realize how important it is for me to be positive and stay focused. I have decided to participate in HIV-related activities in order to learn more. Even while working full-time as a teacher, I found time to help others living with HIV. This mission became so important that I resigned as a teacher in order to go work for the Coping Centre for People Living with HIV and AIDS (COCEPWA). Their programs motivated me to become a role model for positive change. I worked hard and was promoted in every new area I was assigned. I started counselling people on a voluntary basis, which I still do up to this day, and I feel bad if I can’t find time to fit someone into my busy schedule.

In 2006, I participated in Centre for Youth of Hope (CEYOHO)’s Miss HIV Stigma Free pageant in Orapa and was crowned Queen, which came with P60,000 sponsorship from Barclay’s Bank to use in my activities as Miss HIV Stigma Free. With these funds, I conducted an HIV testing campaign in Tlokweng where 365 people tested. I also got the opportunity to travel to Germany through UNICEF sponsorship to share experiences and find out what others were doing beyond our borders. I became a stronger and more motivated person through doing my part to help Botswana and the world to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

I have faced some challenges over the years. I lost some friends who were upset that I spoke publicly about my HIV status, but have gained even better friends who understand the kind of sacrifices I made for everyone in the world.

Even in my old age, I plan to continue talking to my colleagues about HIV and the good and bad experiences over the years. I will continue with my mission, encouraged and humbled by the support from my beloved Botswana Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS (BONEPWA+), the Ministry of Health and Wellness, the United States President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and other stakeholders like media houses.

If you want to live long and positively with HIV – like me – then you must accept yourself, start and adhere faithfully to your treatment, and take good care of yourself and your health. I am living proof that you can achieve your dreams.

You can have it all with Treat All.

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Make Your Challenges Be Your Stepping Stones

Sekgabo Seselamarumo

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I was born on the 20th January 1996 in Maun. At the tender age of seven, I was diagnosed with HIV. The tragedy of my diagnosis doubled when my mother passed away the very same year. I started anti-retroviral treatment in November 2003 at a time when HIV/AIDS was still new to Botswana and stigma and discrimination was very high. I later realized that I was the only child in my extended family who was living with HIV.

I am forever grateful for the support from my aunt, who regularly took me to my doctor appointments and helped me take my medications twice a day. I would often fall sick and miss school for a few days or even a week. Likewise, going to the hospital for regular check-ups meant missing school since hospitals had different systems of helping those living with HIV back then. Despite these challenges, I kept my head held high and worked hard at school.

My academic potential gave me a rare opportunity to rise above humble beginnings. In 2005, my aunt found a job at Okavango Horse Safaris. The company sponsored my education, which led to my enrolment in private school the following year. Since my illness caused me to miss an excessive amount of classes, I had to repeat a grade to compensate for the subjects in which I had fallen behind. But to me this was a blessing, a rare opportunity that comes into one’s life, and thus I embraced it with both hands. While I struggled with some subjects, I found that I was very good with mathematics. With time I caught up with my classmates at Matswane Primary School in Maun.

By standard four, I was among the top students my class. I earned awards for my academic and athletic accomplishments. In my PSLE results, I had got an A for overall grade. I not only worked hard in the classroom, but I also excelled as an athlete and represented my new school in netball, hockey, and swimming. Several times, my natural leadership skills gained me selection as a class monitor. When completing my standard seven, my teachers selected me to serve as prefect monitor for the entire school.

Living with HIV motivated me to work harder in school and be the living testimony that there is life beyond the virus. I always believe that my challenges served as stepping stones into the future.
Currently, I am doing my third year at University of Botswana studying Bachelor of Science general, with a double major in biology/mathematics. I have plans for studying graduate-level medicine and going into research to play a role in trying to find a cure for HIV or cancer.

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