While other teenagers worry about how to cope with relationships and finding meaning in life, 18-year-old Nancy (not her real name) has to deal with taking antiretroviral medication every day for the rest of her life.
She has known since the age of eight that she is infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. As the rest of the world commemorated World Aids Day yesterday, Nancy and her foster mother sat down to share her story of living with HIV.
The virus was passed on to Nancy in the womb by her mother. Nancy and her younger sister have lived with their foster mother since their biological mother passed away on the side of a road in Okahandja.
Recently Nancy’s boyfriend also broke up with her after she disclosed her HIV-status to him.
“Their grandmother chased them away. Her mother was walking on the side of the road, but she got tired and stopped to rest and passed away. They (the two girls) were found sitting next to their mother by a lady,” recalled their foster mother.
Nancy’s younger sister is HIV-negative and has a bigger build. The foster mother said Nancy had full-blown Aids when she came to her.
“She was sickly, she had a big stomach, red eyes and could not speak. She coughed and could not walk or play with other children as she got tired very quickly,” the foster mother said.
At the time doctors said there was nothing they could do and advised her to go home. “But with God everything is possible,” sighed the foster mother, adding that Nancy was eventually put on anti-retroviral drugs (ARV) and responded well. They ensure that she takes her medication on time every day.
Nancy is among 244 032 people living with HIV in Namibia, as per 2015/2016 estimates provided by the Ministry of Health and Social Services’ public relations officer Ester Paulus. She said there are about 143 890 males and females, aged 15 years and above, currently receiving ARV treatment at State facilities.
“There are 48 444 males who are 15 years and above on ARV treatment, while 85 158 females are on treatment,” she said. The estimated number of new HIV infections for 2015/2016 is 8 494, Paulus said.
At about eight years, Nancy’s foster mother – whom they fondly call ‘Ouma’ (grandmother) – sat her down and explained to her why she has to take ARVs. She also explained that if she takes her medication on time she can live longer, get married and have children. “She received the news well. She accepted it and wasn’t shocked, or crying,” recounted the foster mother.
Because Nancy started school late, she is only in Grade 9 now. She aspires to become an accountant one day, but that can only happen if she improves her grades.
As a teenager, Nancy does not tell people she is living with HIV. “At school, only the principal knows,” the foster mother chipped in, adding that they don’t treat her with kid gloves or any differently from other children at home.
“Otherwise she will think she is sick. We all drink from the same cups at home,” said her foster mother.
Nancy is only reminded about her HIV-positive status when she takes her medicine or goes to the hospital.
Despite being an angel in her own right, Nancy’s foster mother expressed disappointment with her wild side, as she sometimes sneaks out of the house and disappears for days leaving her medication behind.
Nancy leaves home under the pretext of going to buy sweets, moans the concerned foster mother. Nancy had a boyfriend, whom she was spending time with, but he ended the relationship after she told him about her status.
“I told him and he said he does not want to think about it or do anything about it,” said Nancy. She also revealed that on two occasions the then lovebirds engaged in sexual intercourse without using protection.
The foster mother added that the two sisters have no intention of renewing their custody contract with her, as they plan on moving out of town to live with their father.
“I’m worried that if they go they might not finish school and that’s the one thing I want them to achieve in life,” said the visibly concerned foster mother.