A new chapter for Pholo Living with AIDS # 418

‘€œLike Michael Jackson’€™s song, ‘€˜This Is It’€™, I am at that point. Tonight I am getting into a marriage that has no possibility to get a divorce’€.

That’€™s what Pholokgolo wrote on the social network, ‘€œFace Book’€, on Saturday evening.

‘€œJa, this is it! Not this is it like this is the end. This is the end of one journey and the beginning of another one. I’€™m looking at the positive side of this one and how I’€™m going to live my life now on’€, said Pholokgolo when questioned in an interview about his Face Book update.

His post was prompted by the following: Pholo, as many people call him, was pondering his very first dose of antiretrovirals. At 21h00 on Saturday, the 30th of January 2010, he started taking ARVs. Taking the two pills, Truvada and Stocrin, was one of the most difficult things he had had to do in his life.

‘€œI opened my bottles, took out the pills, swallowed them after 20 minutes of back-and-forth and reluctance. I just thought I can’€™t do it. No, I can’€™t do it. I put them in my mouth and then I immediately took them out and I held them. And then again I put them in my mouth for 30 seconds. I could feel them melting in my mouth. And that was the second attempt’€, he says.

‘€œKe be ke tshogile (I was scared)’€, he adds in Sepedi, his home language.

Elaborating on the source of his fear, Pholo says: ‘€œ(After taking the pills)my sister said: ‘€˜So, how are you feeling’€™? And I said: ‘€˜I don’€™t think I have any words to explain it’€™. And I still don’€™t. I think if you were with me that time you would have probably seen a person that you have never seen before. I thought I’€™m strong’€¦ I can take anything. The difficulty was the acceptance that now these tablets are going to contribute to my wellness. Some of the stories that I’€™ve heard about ARVs played in my head as I was about to take them and they made it a bit difficult. Somebody was telling me that she had dreams in Afrikaans, and she is Zulu. The other lady once told me she had bad dreams about snakes. So, I think I kind of internalized those things too much that I kind of painted my own picture of what’€™s going to happen’€.

It is strange to hear Pholo say that he was scared to swallow the antiretrovirals. After all, this is a man who took just a year to disclose his HIV-positive status after he was diagnosed with HIV 12 years ago at age 19 while a student at Stellenbosch University. Disclosing one’€™s HIV-positive status at the time was probably tougher than it is today when stigma and discrimination were at their highest peak. What’€™s more there was no treatment for AIDS in the country. Pholo also put on a brave fight as part of the Treatment Action Campaign to force government to roll out a prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission programme.

He fought pharmaceuticals to reduce the costs of antiretrovirals and also campaigned for a national antiretroviral treatment programme. He has also helped people take their ARV treatment. So, why was he scared?  

‘€œI think that has been exactly the problem, Khopotso’€¦ that I’€™ve always been helping other people. I realise now that there was never a time where I sat with myself and thought about me’€¦ that, ‘€˜what happens’€™? It was very hard to internalize this and say, ‘€˜I’€™m ready’€™, because I have helped other people. In short, it’€™s not the same when it’€™s personal. It’€™s like people who judge people who are living with HIV, then it comes home. Suddenly, your perceptions about HIV change because either you are infected or somebody close to you is infected, when you thought ‘€œit will not happen to me’€. I’€™ve always known that it’€™s coming, but I never prepared myself that when it comes, how would I react to it and that’€™s why it took me a good time to even swallow the pills’€, Pholo answers.

Pholo is taking his medication with a CD 4 count or immune system strength measuring over 400, which is double what national guidelines recommend for starting treatment.   His viral load, that is, the amount of HIV present in his blood was over 130 000 copies. But he has started experiencing HIV-related opportunistic conditions, including oral thrush, itchy feet known as neuropathy and fatigue. Because of that his doctor recommended that he start taking treatment now.

‘€œMy only urgency is that I don’€™t want his feet ‘€“ his neuropathy ‘€“ to get worse. So, the sooner we start him’€¦ mainly driven by his feet and the other symptoms that he gets in terms of recurrent thrush in his mouth, in terms of possible fatigue that he may experience may all be related to his body just battling to fight the HIV’€, explains Dr Dave Johnson.                      


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