In the past 12 years I have had first-hand experience of positive and negative challenges faced by a person living with HIV/AIDS in four different countries.
Nothing ever prepares anyone for bad news especially if it has anything to do with one’s health. The hope is always for being negative and not positive hence it being devastating when I found out. It doesn’t matter how one acquires a life threatening disease. It is the most painful moment when the doctor delivers the bad news. As a victim of circumstance, I was devastated and beyond words. However at that point I had no option but to embrace my new diagnosis and do my best to live with it.
Africa: No access to treatment
My stay in Europe ended abruptly almost two years after my diagnosis when I was unceremoniously returned to Africa. I lived in Kenya for slightly over one year, I had no idea of how to access medical facilities there however, with connections from friends in UK, I was able to access the HIV/AIDS clinic that mostly caters for the LGBT community in Nairobi. It would have been quite impossible to access state-owned clinics or hospitals since I was not a citizen and I didn’t have any funds to go to private hospitals. I continued to receive full screening for the period I was there and If I needed treatment for any short illness, it was given free of charge
I was faced with new challenges when I relocated to South Africa. All South African citizens have national identity cards that have to be produced in every government institution in order to receive services. The law there states that every person living in SA is entitled to medical treatment regardless of one’s identity however this is not the case.
I was lucky because I had a very good lawyer who was able to advised me on what to do and where to go. As a person who clearly knew the laws, told me that if anyone denied me services, I needed to tell him immediately away.
Being someone with mental health issues, I immediately accessed a state clinic. After the doctor had read my psychiatric report, he referred me to a NGO HIV/AIDS clinic that was funded by the USAID.
At this clinic, we received food parcels that included food, household essentials, fortified porridge plus free vitamin C and B complex free of charge. The clinic was stocked with medication purposely for HIV/AIDS patients plus, one would be referred straight to the hospital of it was necessary. We had no long queues which meant being attended to fast and a doctor was always available to go through individual patients report and prescribed any extra medication if needed.
Norway: New life, new language and snow
I am receiving very good care and I am once again able to discuss with my doctor any issues I have. My journey as a woman living with HIV/AIDS has led me to conclude that in developing countries patients sometimes develop full blown AIDS and die not because they are not taking their medication or seeking treatment quickly, but because they are let down by the health system.
Everyone living with HIV has the right to a long fulfilling life and there is still much left to do to achieve this!