HIV positive but not beaten

HARARE - Mercy Musiyiwa is a 22-year old lady studying photojournalism at Harare Polytechnic.

She dreams of becoming a prominent photojournalist.

Despite youths constituting thousands of the 1,3 million people living with HIV in Zimbabwe, Musiyiwa is among a handful of youths living openly. Unlike some who acquire it along the way; Musiyiwa was born with the virus.

“I was always ill growing up. I remember I was admitted into the hospital seven times in my life before I was initiated on

anti-retroviral therapy (ARVs), so I consider myself lucky. Being positive doesn’t mean the world has ended,” said Musiyiwa who is impressively articulate.

Government figures show that approximately 5 000 of the

babies born to 70 000 HIV positive mothers yearly are born with the virus and 1 500 die before their second birthday.

To help reduce such transmissions, infant and maternal mortality, policy now requires pregnant mothers to be screened and immediately placed on ARVs if they test positive.

Musiyiwa, exuding the confidence of a person who has accepted her condition, recalls vividly the names she was called for being always sick.

“At school, boys would call me all sorts of bad things like Mama can’t grow, arikurarama nemapiritsi, kanojuicer aka,” (She is on HIV medication) she says giggling while giving an insight into issues of stigma and discrimination still rife in the country.

“My parents knew but they couldn’t bring themselves to tell me. My dad passed away when I was only four and my mum when I was in Form Two but she had given up on me nearly a decade earlier.”

Musiyiwa is blunt when it comes to her feelings about her late mother.

“Till now I have never bothered to visit her grave, not because she died of HIV-related illnesses but because she was never there for me when she was alive,” she professed.

An aunt took over her guardianship since she was in grade two. Until the aunt took her for an HIV test in 2008, when she was in Form Four, Musiyiwa was oblivious of her status.

“I went there believing I wasn’t positive so I fainted upon being confirmed positive. When I regained consciousness, I faked acceptance so the counsellor would let me go.”

Three times after the test, she tried to commit suicide.

“At one time, it was a rope which my friend cut in time to save my life, followed by overdoses of BP and asthma tablets respectively,” she said adding, “Now I look back and say, I really was going to miss out on life if I had succeeded.”

However, at that time, according to Musiyiwa, the suicidal thoughts were exacerbated by her aunt’s inadequacies in comprehending the condition after the confirmation.

“I was always reminded I was different. She was always revealing my status to people at church and at one point she even told my ex-boyfriend who later told me ‘Sorry I can’t date a dead person’. It affected me a lot.”

Her performance at school suffered and soon she left home for the streets.

“I was a street child for six months,” that was before a local medical doctor, Andrew Reid, who coordinates Champions for Life, a programme which supports children born HIV positive, reintegrated her. To this day, Reid pays her fees.

After being initiated on treatment in 2008, Musiyiwa started living openly about three years later.

With a lucid recollection of her turning point, Musiyiwa said, “In 2011, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation’s conference on “eliminating new HIV infections in children — keeping mothers alive” gave me a much bigger platform to disclose, right before the President (Robert Mugabe) and government ministers.”

According to her, disclosure is a process made easier when one has a strong support system and adequate knowledge of the condition.

“It calls for answers to the five journalistic questions (what, when, where, why and how) but if only my peers knew how liberating it is to open up. Now I face less discrimination.”

She is dating an HIV negative man.

“At first it was difficult for him but counselling helped. He is so loving and supportive of my treatment and education. We are taking it one day at a time.”

Society is still tense in accepting HIV positive people, worse young people, owing to prejudices and perceptions that the disease is acquired by promiscuous and reckless people only.

Therefore many, despite knowing their status, cannot share with relatives and partners for fear of reprisal and discrimination — a situation which is not helping with national infection rates which currently stand at 70 000 annually.

To help address the gaps in HIV management among the youths, government with the help of partners, has made strides in increasing their access to relevant services.

Musiyiwa desires that policy- makers push for improvements in the quality of sexual reproductive health services for youths.

Since 2012, she has been advocating for more youth- friendly corners which are serviced by young personnel, integration of opportunistic infection services in healthcare settings and food supplements for those living positive.

“There is just not much movement in the area. Last July, I lost a dear friend who defaulted on treatment and never gathered the courage to seek medical help for a sexually transmitted disease.

“I want to say excessive sympathy is very oppressive so don’t fall for that if you are supporting an infected person.”

Comments (2)

Carlos, Chile I didn't email you in awhile. I just want to tell you everything has changed. Before life was hell, now its like heaven on earth. It's really amazing how my life changed with your very powerful spell.and also happy to share this testimony to the word how this d.rivers help me his email

Carlos, Chile - 23 February 2015

Bravo Mercy! you are a living heroine. May your testament be a living testimony to those who are still living in denial both the infected and affected. Life is worth living irrespective of your status and it is God given and is never negotiated. Live your life to the full my sister. May the Good God bless you with more years so that you can continue to be the inspiration that you are.

Edmond - 23 February 2015

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