BY ZAINABU ISSAH
There has been a lot of advertisements in the media about the disease and the importance of knowing ones HIV and AIDS status. I remember writing an article on it myself, advocating with my last drop of ink for Ghanaians to accept the reality of the disease and check their status.
However, the same stigma and discrimination that I fought against does not encourage me as a writer to take a peep into how it feels to be positive. I view it as a death warrant on earth before I start to check on where my fate lies. Personally, it is a risk I would not want to take.
As I watched and listened to the panellists on the high table calling on Ghanaians to know their HIV status, I asked myself if the preachers had practised what they were preaching and had an awkward laugh as the programme rolled on.
Then I heard the MC say, “Now let’s invite our HIV and AIDS Ambassadors who have been living with the disease for some time now to give us a word or two”.
This time my pen got stuck on my note pad waiting to give a vivid description of these ambassadors and to write their names if necessary. My camera was also ready to play its role. With my prejudiced image of how a person living with the disease should look like, I was not going to allow the moment to pass. I was going to hit the nail straight on the head with the support of my pictures so that the world would know how skinny and ugly the disease can make you.
At a point, I imagined them in quarantine clothes so that they would not get others infected with the disease even with their look. My imaginations were wild and too outrageous and I even suspected myself for building castles in the air but this was my “Alice in Wonderland” story.
Then I began to perspire, not even the chilly air in the room could help. I was stunned, my jaw dropped, my pen found its way to the floor, and my notepad followed. What is going on? I whispered to myself. The truth was shocking. The lady I admired in the washroom with all the endowed features is HIV positive.
Words can’t describe how I felt when I saw her walk to the stage. She looked so beautiful, too endowed and too eloquent. I rubbed my handkerchief twice on my face and pinched myself twice to make sure I was not dreaming.
She held the microphone and mentioned her name with a broad smile, and confirmed what I thought was not, “My name is Joyce. I am HIV positive,” she said. I could immediately see that I was not the only one shocked at this revelation but everyone who thought the same as I did, but no one could say it loud.
She has been living with the disease for the past four years and is now married with two children. Now 24 years old and on antiretroviral therapy, she had the disease through sexual intercourse with her partner.
Another lady ambassador who suffered an unfair treatment from friends and neighbours including those at her workplace and at a point felt like killing herself has also been living with the virus for the past eight years. “I have experienced extraordinary good health and productive working life since being on HIV treatment,” she said.
She explained further that before going for the therapy, she moved from one prayer camp and herbalist to the other with no improvement and was in denial for all those years.
Two other ambassadors of the initiative, a couple, who have been living with the virus for the past 10 years, narrated their ordeal in the hands of their families, the community and worse of all, the church that teaches love for one another.
“Stigma and discrimination towards persons living with HIV is an act against God. See God in everybody and treat all human beings the same because God created us in his own image,” Rev Azumah, an HIV positive person, said with a hand around his wife’s shoulder.
These soothing words and confessions from the bold ambassadors glued me to the seat with goose pimples and the sweat routinely outdoing each other to take over my body. My mind was cold to the news I just received. I needed the surprise, now I have it. Yes that was the truth. HIV and AIDS are real no doubt.