It begins with you

ImageOur lecture was about to start when a young boy around fourteen years of age walked in and went in front of the class. Everyone went quiet. The immediate assumption was that he was a psych patient who had left the ward unnoticed.

He then broke the silence, his voice full of emotion. He started by wishing us success in our studies then he asked to pray for us. We just bowed our heads in silence still trying to grasp what was taking place. He knelt and said a powerful prayer which resulted in most people fighting back tears. At the heart of it was a desire for us to excel in our studies and graduate as doctors. When he finished praying tears were flowing on his cheeks. His story was quite sad. He was born HIV positive and had lost his parents to AIDS. He sounded hopeless and the most painful part was when he said he was not living long……. It pierced my heart personally and brought a lot of questions chief among them, WHY? I thought of other children probably in a similar situation and had a strong conviction to want to take action.

I wondered as I am studying to be a doctor, do I ever take time to think of the plight of people infected and affected by HIV? Do I ever dream of helping make possible an AIDS free generation or all I think of are the possible financial rewards of my profession. AIDS is real, and it’s unfortunate that the majority of our admitted patients are HIV positive. I remember at some point thinking that the special attention HIV/AIDS was getting was promoting stigma. But at that moment I asked myself if we are doing enough………

Obviously the first thing that came to mind was we have insufficient funds to effectively implement most of the HIV programs. But there are some initiatives on an individual level which do not cost anything.

It is the responsibility of every citizen to acquire knowledge about HIV because it affects everyone. If you are HIV negative the knowledge will help prevent you from getting infected and hopefully reduce new infections. It will also influence your sexual behaviour and help you make informed decisions. It will help you realise the importance of knowing your status and how it will help curb new infections. For instance understanding what circumcision is and how it helps in protecting you from getting infected and not however protect your partner will help you continue using condoms. Do not just follow the crowd, it is your body. Being proactive about one’s health generally will help improve the quality of your life whether you are negative or positive.  Doing things blindly has its consequences. When you are well informed you can also educate others helping spread the information far and wide.

Fully understanding HIV and AIDS is also crucial in fighting stigma. It takes away the mystery of being infected and helps you relate better with those who will have been infected. Love and hope are essential in helping a person come to terms with their status. Support from family, friends and the society at large goes a long way in fighting stigma and its associated complications. Being fully informed will help you in not making irresponsible decisions like neglecting or discriminating people on the basis of their HIV status

Being HIV positive is not a death sentence. With the advent of Anti-retroviral therapy you can live your life to the fullest. Knowing your HIV status early will help you be put on treatment earlier which is essential in your response to the medication. Acquire as much information as you can, because it helps in motivating you to adhere to your treatment. Knowledge also help you understand how reinfection might adversely affect the effectiveness of your treatment. It might also influence you to help prevent new infections. You can lead a normal life and have HIV negative children thanks to Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programs and see your children grow. Help other people realise that being HIV positive is not the end of the world. If we all unite and make it our responsibility to know about HIV/AIDS and actively fight against new infections, stigma and even early deaths we can put an end to the devastating impact AIDS has had on our society. Just remember it begins with you….