As much as possible, life had been a warm journey for me. Growing up in the suburbs of one of Accra's average neighborhoods, life had been fun and happy.
My parents tried all they could to provide a comfortable life for my siblings and I. For this, we are very grateful. I completed the university at age 22 and was done with my National service in a year's time.
I have always fancied people in uniform. The Army. The Navy. The Police. The Nurses. I had just fancied workers in uniform because they usually looked very sharp and well dressed no matter what. With this love, I decided to apply for one of the security services.
I got enrolled and started my training. Eventually the recruits were done with all we had to do and eventually we became officers.
Fast forward to six years after being in the agency, and two years after dating Araba, I decided to marry her, if she would agree to be my wife. We went through all the counseling steadily. We had a series of medical tests to do as well. One of these was HIV testing. Araba and I had decided not to engage in pre-marital sex.
The tests came out and everything was fine, except that Araba was HIV negative while i was HIV positive. I couldn't fathom where and how I had possibly gotten infected. I tried so hard but I could not remember how, or when.
This result cast a gloom on our wedding preparations. I was already asking her to please allow us to break up so I deal with my misery as I did not want her to suffer the same fate. But Araba stayed and comforted me. She did all she could to make me have a positive outlook.
She had gotten herself an intense education on persons living with HIV and she practically dragged me to a health facility. With her support, several other tests were done and I was put on anti Retro viral therapy. I still insisted she leaves but she insisted that in her readings, she had gotten to know that it is possible to marry someone with HIV and even possible to have children without HIV with the infected person.
Eventually we got back on track, while I was still almost always afraid of transmitting the virus to her.
I confided in a bosom friend about my dilemma. Next thing I knew, some people in my area of residence had started giving me cold shoulders. Eventually more and more people withdrew from me and Araba got warned by one of them that I had AIDS and that if she loves her life, she should stay away from me. This was when it hit me! Somehow, my status had become public knowledge and they were stigmatizing me. It felt awful a lot of the time. Sometimes I cried when any of them treated me so bad and called me names anytime i walked by.
Eventually I had to move out as I could not stand the treatment anymore. I tried to educate one or two that the fact that I have HIV does not mean I will be transferring the virus to them simply by talking or shaking hands with them or by living in the neighborhood. I became their laughing stock and despite Araba's support, I almost got into a state of depression.
Eventually I moved from the neighborhood. Thankfully, the anti Retroviral therapy made me strong and look healthy so there was no way anyone could see that I was sick. My immediate family gave me support. Araba never informed her family of my status until she had eventually educated them about persons living with HIV and how that is possible.
Later, she told them and her immediate family accepted me as well. Some persons from both of our extended families however made unsavory comments but we went past that. Eventually we got married and have been blessed with three HIV negative babies since we got married nine years ago.
Araba has been my pillar of hope and for that, I am eternally grateful. Facing that strong opposition and stigma from my previous neighborhood still hurts me. It hurts because that was one of the places I had wanted to, and eventually lived there. The people were mostly amazing people until my HIV status became a public note.
Stigma can cause depression and indeed though I was on treatment, it made me entertain suicide thoughts. Thankfully they only succeeded in making me get myself out of the neighborhood and not doing the worst to myself.
To you all, please know that HIV is real and it is also real that persons living with HIV can have a healthy normal life.
Stigma kills faster than the virus.
Written by Sakyiwaa Mensah