THEMBELANI Ncube remembers that fateful day like it was yesterday when her world seemed to be crumbling down around her. It was an extremely hot Wednesday afternoon in October 25, 2000 when she casually walked into Nkulumane Clinic in Bulawayo for an HIV test.
At that time, Ncube was 25 years old, full of life and had a bright future ahead of her.
Sitting on a garden bench at her Greendale home in Harare, seemingly staring into empty space, Ncube recalls the overwhelming fear and anxiety she experienced as she waited for what seemed like hours for the results.
In what looked like an eternity, her code was finally called out and time seemed to stop.
A nervous Ncube, who was six weeks pregnant, followed the counsellor, who spoke to her about HIV and Aids and the options and told her that it would not be the end of the world if she tests positive.
The counsellor then asked if she was ready for the results, to which she nodded “yes” apprehensively.
A bombshell was dropped — “You are HIV positive,” she vividly remembers the counsellor telling her.
“I broke down in tears. I was shocked, angry and distraught,” Ncube said adding that she felt like she had just been handed down a death sentence.
“How could I be positive at 25 years? But I have never been sick and I am still young? Could they have mixed up the results and will my baby survive?” These were the questions that raced through her mind.
“It was the worst feeling I have ever had. I could feel cold shivers running through my spine and whole body,” she said. My world had just crumbled. Tears just started streaming down my face. How could I tell anyone that I was HIV positive? It was not something to talk about those years.”
After testing positive, Ncube kept her status a secret from her family. Two weeks after the tests, she gathered enough courage to tell her boyfriend, who seemed to accept the results and assured her of his support but only to break up after two years without ever revealing his status to her.
“My major concern was making sure my baby would not get infected. In 2000, the anti-natal clinic that did the prevention of mother to child transmission was in Pelandaba. I got into the programme and at eight months started taking the AZT pill until the due date,” she recalled.
Zidovudine (ZDV), also known as azidothymidine (AZT), is an antiretroviral medication used to prevent and treat HIV/Aids.
Ncube delivered her baby end of May 2001.
“My mother did not notice when I was still in hospital that I was not breastfeeding, but when I was discharged it became a problem. I lied to my mother that the doctor had noticed I was going to have breast cancer so I was on medication that was not good for baby,” she said.
Ncube said at three months her baby boy tested negative and again at six months, nine months and one year and half years. Today he is 14 years and still negative. However, when her son was two, she fell very ill as she was not on anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) due to a shortage in the country. She says it is a miracle that she is still alive.
“I started losing weight, I had rash and soars all over my body and for three weeks I had diarrhea,”she said.
At times I could not even control myself and I would mess my pants. I had my first CD4 count, it was at six and after all the consultation it was found that I was on stage 3. I was that close to full blown Aids, so I could have died.”
Her condition forced her to tell her family, who were very supportive.
“I felt a heavy weight being lifted off me. I felt better afterwards. Sometimes being silent just worsens everything,” she added.
Ncube began taking ARVs in 2004 and in no time she gained weight and her rash disappeared. And now, 15 years after knowing her status, Ncube is a vibrant and happy person so full of life. Her outlook has changed from 2000, when she discovered she was positive. The joy, happiness and peace is evident in the way she carries herself and today she freely shares her story and speaks openly about HIV and Aids without fear and anxiety.
She married her partner, who is also living with HIV, last year.
“I have never been happier in my life. I am happily married. What more can I ask for,” she said.
Ncube’s story is one of the many success stories of Zimbabweans living positively with HIV and have continued to live a normal life after going on antiretroviral treatment.
A Global Aids Response country report indicated that Zimbabwe recorded a 38% drop in HIV/Aids-related deaths and a 25% reduction in mother-to-child transmission rates since 2010.
The report’s findings were based on data jointly collected by the National Aids Council, ministry of Health and Child Care and other health partners.
“The Zimbabwe National HIV and Aids Strategic Plan (ZNASP) 2011-2015 articulated four impact level results: (a) HIV incidence reduced by 50% from 0,85% (48 168) for adults (2009) to 0,435% (24 084) by 2015, (b) HIV incidence reduced among children from 30% in 2010 to less than 5% by 2015, (c) HIV and Aids — related mortality reduced by 38% from 71 299 (2010) for adults and 13 393 for children (2010) to 44 205 for adults and 8 304 for children by 2015 and (d) the national multi-sectorial response improved,” reads the report.
Vice chairperson of the National Aids Council Beatrice Tonhodzayi Ngondo said although there were a number of challenges in the fight against HIV/Aids, Zimbabwe had done well.
“HIV has been with us for three decades now and we have managed to reduce HIV prevalence from over 30% at its peak in 2000 to half of that (15%) at the end of 2014,”Ngondo said.
We have worked on multi sectorial responses which have worked very well for us. We should continue to work hard and ensure that the vulnerable are more targeted. In this period of economic hardships girls and women become very vulnerable.”
Executive Director of UNAIDS Michel Sidibé announcing in July that the goal of 15 million people on life saving HIV treatment by 2015 had been met nine months ahead of schedule.
“Fifteen years ago there was a conspiracy of silence. Aids was a disease of the others and treatment was for the rich and not for the poor. We proved them wrong, and today we have 15 million people on treatment — 15 million success stories.”
There are more than 750 000 HIV positive Zimbabweans currently on anti-retroviral treatment and the country needs about US$22,5 million annual to monitor the health of those people.