Woman overcomes HIV/Aids stigma in Namibia

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By Harris Rodgers

WINDHOEK – Finding out that she was HIV positive 12 years ago came as such a big blow to one woman that she did not know whether she would recover from the psychological shock.

Thoughts of death filled her mind on a daily basis, and getting through the day was the hardest part.

From the death thoughts, she went through the denial phase where she managed to convince herself that the doctors had made a mistake.

She shied away from people; pushing away her closest friends because of fear that they would discover the secret that she vowed would die with her.

For years, Veronica Kalambi struggled with accepting her HIV status and making the move towards living positively.

“How could I learn how to live with it when I was not even prepared to accept it? When I went to have myself tested it was only because my friend was doing it, and so I was not hundred percent prepared,” she recalls.

Veronica was only 26-years-old when she tested positive.

Back then having HIV/AIDS was something that people did not discuss openly because they were afraid of stigmatisation.

For five years, Veronica not only lived with the fear of dying but also the secret that she was HIV positive.

Not telling people also meant that she could not follow the procedures necessary to control the virus.

Her intimate relationship suffered because she also kept her status from her partner, which put a strain on their relationship and he left.

Losing her support system made everything worse and she started wasting away until the time when she met another HIV patient — a woman who opened her eyes to the truth and the benefits of disclosing her status to close family and friends.

Even then, she did not find it easy, but with the help of her newfound friend she at least had somewhere to start.

In 2010, she became a volunteer at AIDS Care Trust (a local NGO) where she received more information on how to live with the virus.

Becoming a volunteer motivated her to open up, because she knew that she would be able to move people more if she spoke from experience.

When she opened up, doors also began opening up for her, including her love life.

In 2011 she married, something that made things easier for her as she had someone who was there for her.

From volunteering at the NGO, Veronica also found the motivation to have her CD4 count checked and she was put on treatment.

“I am glad that I am now on medication because before I always feared that by taking the medication people would find out about my status since you have to take them every day,” she says.

Through her story and experiences, Veronica now works as a Project Officer for Namibia Women’s Health Network helping other women who are going through what she went through.

However, she does admit that even though she has made peace with her condition she does not always find it easy to live with HIV.

“Sometimes you become emotional when you are around people and they start talking about people with HIV; it is really depressing, ” she said.

“You miss out on job opportunities because of your status especially those that require HIV/Aids tests,” she said.

Veronica says there are certain foods that her condition does not allow her to eat, which has also been hard on her.

From the time she disclosed her status, Veronica has received a great deal of support from her family and colleagues who are always there for her.

“It is important to know that there is always light at the end of every tunnel, and even though it might feel as if the whole world is closing in whenever we receive bad news, it is always possible to get up from whatever situation,” says Veronica. NAMPA / XINHUA

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