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Would you marry someone with HIV? Facts about virus

I am in a group where the question was asked: “Would you marry someone who is HIV positive?” I was so sad to still see the misinformation and stigma around the youth.

The majority said: “No”. Some even said they could not marry someone who was reckless enough to get HIV.

I have lived with this condition for 28 years. Long enough to know that there are children who were born HIV positive. So how were they reckless?

I was married to a man who was negative; he never got the virus from me. He tested regularly. We followed the science as it evolved. During the time we had our children (mid to late-1990s) we followed the science.

ABC: Abstain, Be faithful or reduce the number of your sex partners, and/or use a Condom.

My daughter was the result of a defective condom. I was devastated to discover I was pregnant because I was afraid to pass on the virus to another human being. I was so afraid that I tried to pretend I was not pregnant for a month. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but the fear of putting a child in danger was so great I thought I could wish away a pregnancy. I was also experiencing the grief of my late father’s passing, so you can imagine the heightened emotions.

My friend finally left a pregnancy test kit outside my front door. My little sister saw the kit and spoke the words before I even had the baby. She was so excited. I was shaking with fear when my sister took me to Dr Peter Mbizvo, a family friend. He was amazing.

He told me the science had progressed since my first child’s birth and directed me to two earth angels Dr Hammond, my gynaecologist and Dr Elopy Sibanda, my virologist and the pre-eminent expert on HIV care in Zimbabwe.

Both my children and their father are HIV negative. My son sent me his test results yesterday. The science works. I started taking anti-retrovirals 10 years after my son was born.

As nascent as the science on the coronavirus is — follow the science. I am undetectable now. I have been undetectable for all the time I have been on ARVs even after having Aids (a CD4 count of 4) when I contracted pneumonia in 2004.

I am a testament to science. Many people ask me why I do not date yet. I am very very careful about giving my heart. I cannot afford to have it scarred by someone who carries the stigma or does not trust science, because I have experienced the stigma of someone that manipulated the science to gaslight me; telling me I must have tumours on my brain, I was forgetting things, I was sick. There is nothing more frightening than being gaslighted in a loving relationship. That is why I am divorced today because my relationship became toxic.

The science works. So my facts are, and they are based on scientific fact backed by 28 years of surviving HIV and Aids:

Firstly if you have HIV protect your mental health. Guard your soul jealously. Leave any toxic situation, no matter what; be it a spouse, partner, child, mother, father or any relative, friend and/or boss. If it vexes your mind it can reduce your immunity and make you ill. Walk away. Leave. Quit. Stop interacting with that person. Set clear boundaries. Control those boundaries. Say No. Block and delete toxic people. Do not interact. Remember toxicity pertains to you. That person may not be toxic to other people. That’s okay. Guard jealously your soul.

Treat every opportunistic illness. Treat your flu. In fact get a flu shot. If you fall ill get immediate care. Treat anything that can affect your immunity. I am paranoid about getting the coronavirus. I only interact with people I trust to understand my level of paranoia.

Take your ARVs religiously. Take that pill. I panic if I am running out.

Get an annual blood test to check your viral load

Sleep

Follow good nutritional practices. Eat nutritional food. Eat well. Do not compromise your health

Surround yourself with love. I only interact with those who love me fiercely. They are allowed in. My pets are my first line of defence.

Understand contraindications in medication. I very rarely take painkillers, largely because I do not need them, but also because I do not want to increase the risk of compromising my kidneys. There are side effects to taking any long-term treatment. Read the pamphlet. If you experience anything out of the ordinary change the treatment. I changed my ARV therapy at the same time that I was experiencing extreme post traumatic stress disorder. I kept saying to the doctor, but it does not appear on the contraindications but I keep blacking out. He said you could be patient 0. So we changed the medication and I stopped blacking out.

Have a good medical doctor who follows the developments in HIV therapy. I go to a specialist hospital in Rome. It is a public hospital that specialises in communicable diseases. Get a doctor who understands HIV and ensure that all doctors speak to each other. I have had a hysterectomy while being HIV-positive and having deep vein thrombosis. Ensure your doctors speak to each other.

Undetectable is non-transmissible: with the ARV therapy I am no longer transmitting the virus if I have unprotected sex because the virus is undetectable in my body. I am not cured of the virus but I cannot transmit the virus. If I stop taking my ARVs the virus will invade my body again. So you can date and have sex with someone who is undetectable after they have ensured they are undetectable for six months from the first time they are undetectable.

If you are afraid or unsure that you have been exposed to someone who has HIV and may be detectable you can take post-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP is an HIV prevention method in which people who don’t have HIV take HIV medicine daily to reduce their risk of getting HIV if they are exposed to the virus. PrEP can stop HIV from taking hold and spreading throughout your body.

Go to the UNAids site. Follow the science; especially the young people. Aids is still killing people.

Wadzanai Garwe.

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