WINDHOEK- “I have been living with HIV for 12 years now and to tell you the truth initially it was not easy for me,” said Veronica Kalambi an HIV activist with the Namibia Women’s Health Network (NWHN).
Kalambi said she was shocked when she first found out about her HIV-positive status. At the time she was in denial and it became even worse because of self-stigma, she says.
“That was the biggest problem as I started to isolate myself from family and friends. It affected my health negatively because I was thinking I do not deserve to be around them and what will be their reaction towards me if I disclosed my status to them,” said Kalambi.
It took Kalambi five years before telling anyone about her HIV status because she was not so sure about the reaction she would get from people. She also initially didn’t go for a CD4 test because of the fear that if her CD4 results were weak the doctor would put her on treatment and she would be going to hospital, where people would see her including her friends.
Kalambi shared her story at the Katutura Youth Sports Complex on December 04, 2014 at the commemoration of World AIDS Day.
Kalambi said she met with Jennifer Gatsi-Mallet, whom she calls ‘meme Jenny’, in 2008 through a project called Parliamentarians for Women Health. “Gatsi-Mallet is a strong woman and she encouraged all of us who participated in that project to be strong and speak out about HIV and all the forms of violation against women, especially women living with HIV,” Kalambi remembers.
“Meme Jenny and 12 women who are also HIV positive came together and put ideas on the table to start an organisation that looks specifically at issues affecting women living with HIV in Namibia and that’s how NWHN was born,” said Kalambi.
After the birth of NWHN, Kalambi attended international conferences on HIV where she met different women who are also living with HIV and they shared their personal life stories, how to cope with the virus and the level of stigma in their different countries that motivated her a lot, she says. It also built up her confidence to talk about her life with HIV.
“Today my life has changed dramatically. I see things in a different way and at the same time I changed my way of living from a life of a don’t care attitude and adopted a positive way of living,’’ said Kalambi.
She says the best weapon to fight HIV-AIDS is to change one’s behaviour, accept people living with HIV and work with them on HIV prevention strategies to promote the greater involvement of people living with HIV in decision-making bodies and not just have them as tokens.
By Regina Simasiku