More than 20 years ago, just after I had completed my secondary education, I was diagnosed with HIV. At that time, I thought I now had full self responsibility to my life. I had dreams, just like any other young person. This was the worst news I heard at that moment.
My life came to a standstill for awhile. Everything around me was now dictated by my diagnosis. My education, my career and family dreams were shattered and my parents and siblings were affected even more than myself. Ever since then, life has never been normal, It is not normal, It will never be normal for me even if a cure is found.
I have been to hell and back because of HIV on all fronts. Most notable and physical was my onset of treatment. Twice, I have reacted very badly to medication to the point of almost losing my life. At one point, I thought death would be more relieving than the pain and discomfort I was feeling. I am alive today mainly for having had access to competent, quick medical attention and strong family support at that time. In my more than 20 years work in the HIV field, I do not know of any HIV positive individual who has had it easy both socially and medically. I know some that have even died due to drug reactions, stigma and late diagnosis and lack of access to care and support. We musk a lot; because that is what society wants to see or wants us to portray.
Why am I saying all this?
I want to repeat, it is not normal. I do not wish this to happen to our children who have dreams and a full life ahead of them. I would not wish HIV infection to happen even to my worst enemy. It is for these reasons I am joining the prevention advocates. I will do whatever it takes within my ability to speak out and support prevention efforts to stop any single HIV infection where I can. I will support the HIV vaccines initiative because if it succeeds, it will be one of the biggest breakthroughs in the fight against HIV.
It is no longer about me People spoke for us; I am alive today because of the many voices that stood up for us – people living positively with HIV (PLWHIV). My immediate family takes the biggest credit. They read anything and everything they could come across that would enable them to help me and understand me.
But it still has never been normal and it will never be for me. As an existential fact, we are alone. Many a times I am alone, pain, drugs swallowing, loss of appetite….I am alone.
This can, and could have been prevented. I am going to spend the remaining part of my life, advocating for all forms of prevention…. but education and vaccines are going to take centre stage of my advocacy work. For we all know, PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE.
The face of HIV today is young people. As a mother, and as a person who got infected at that tender age, the news about new HIV infections among young people churns my stomach.
I look forward to seeing how advocates are going to be engaged in the HIV vaccine initiatives and I am more than happy and willing to take on this assignment very seriously to let communities know and understand the importance of HIV vaccine and prevention.
Inviolata Mwali Mmbwavi is the National Coordinator International Community of Women Living with HIV Kenya Chapter (ICW-K)