Nine simple steps to make life a little easier Living with AIDS # 335

KHOPOTSO: Discovering that you are HIV-positive is no easy pie. But instead of being paralysed by fear, shame, self-pity and stigma there is a lot that you can do to protect your health. The Society for Family Health, a not-for-gain organisation working in the field of HIV/AIDS, urges people to follow a nine-step guide to ensure that their health never deteriorates. Ncamusile Nhlabathi is the Manager in the organisation’€™s Voluntary Counselling and Testing programme.  


NCAMUSILE NHLABATHI: The first step is making sure that you go to your doctor’€¦ and have all the other tests just to look after your health holistically. If you know you are HIV-positive there are other tests that you need to do, like making sure that you don’€™t have TB because if you have TB it could be a deadly combination’€¦


KHOPOTSO: Other tests that are important for one to run would be the viral load test and the CD4-test. Why are those important?


NCAMUSILE NHLABATHI: A test to tell you if you are HIV-infected doesn’€™t tell you how long you’€™ve had the disease and how long has the damage (been) done in your body by this virus. So, by making sure that you’€™re having those tests, you are able to check how far the virus is in your body so that you can be in a position to start taking medication like ARVs, if you need to’€¦


KHOPOTSO: How often, say in a year, should one take these tests?


NCAMUSILE NHLABATHI: Once you have been diagnosed as HIV-positive, you should ideally be going to a clinic or a doctor regularly. (By) regularly we mean, maybe, once every three months.


KHOPOTSO: Seeking knowledge on HIV and AIDS is important and information is widely available through the media and a number of other sources. But Nhlabathi says the best source of advice is your health care provider. She advises that every visit to a health care centre should be used as an opportunity to learn more about your condition.  


NCAMUSILE NHLABATHI: We know that there’€™s HIV and there’€™s AIDS and it’€™s important for you to distinguish which stage am I at? Am I still at HIV stage or am I now having the actual disease, which is AIDS? If you have that there are medications that can be able to help you live healthily. And find out how you can prevent yourself from getting AIDS if you already have HIV because if you have HIV it doesn’€™t mean that you are going to have AIDS.


KHOPOTSO: The third step is to take a breather, meaning to take a couple of days to take stock and to come to terms with the diagnosis. And even though it may not be the best of times, Nhlabathi says the fourth step is to make sure that you don’€™t despair.


NCAMUSILE NHLABATHI: Your dreams can still come true. You can still go on and plan about your life, even if we do have HIV.


KHOPOTSO: The guide also advises that it’€™s important to report any minor infection, be it a cold or flu to your health care provider as quickly as possible. These could be a symptom of a more serious underlying illness. Eat correctly. More importantly, eat fruits and vegetables. Try eating some of your vegetables raw or make them into a salad. If you prefer them cooked, do not over-cook them. Avoid or reduce risky behaviour such as smoking, excessive drinking and the use of drugs, as these can weaken the immune system. Step number 8, urges people to protect themselves and others.


NCAMUSILE NHLABATHI: Make sure that you are using condoms. The reason for this is that the HI-virus is not multiplying in the same way that it will multiply in my body and in your body. So, the two of us might be having different strengths of the virus and if we are not using condoms, even though both of us are infected, we might be exchanging these different strengths and therefore, making the other person to be sick more quicker. Even if we do have the same strengths of the virus’€¦ by not using condoms we’€™re sort of transmitting the HIV to and from and helping it grow quicker in the body, resulting in AIDS stage’€¦ And if your partner is not infected it really makes sense for you to protect them because we know at the moment that there is no cure for HIV.      


KHOPOTSO: Finally, (in) step 9, you’€™re offering a word of comfort. You are saying to people: ‘€˜You are not alone’€™.


NCAMUSILE NHLABATHI: Finding out you are HIV-positive can be a very lonely stage for a person. They might be thinking, ‘€˜actually, I’€™m different from the rest of the people. I’€™m no longer the same. How can they treat me?’€™. You start isolating yourself before other people can isolate you. So, we’€™re just saying to you, ‘€˜go and talk to people’€™’€¦ Join a support group. Talk to an HIV counsellor, someone who understands what you’€™ll be going through, someone who’€™ll not be judging you because every support that you can get means a lot for someone who is HIV-infected.  


KHOPOTSO: Speak to your doctor or local clinic for information on where to find your nearest support group. If you’€™re uncomfortable about joining one in your area, call the AIDS helpline number on 0800 012 322 for a wide selection of places where you can find a support group.


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