The Observer (Kampala)

1 January 2013

Uganda: Lessons From Nanyonga for 2013

All year round, HIV has been in and out of the news - sometimes on a positive note (with the discovery of new preventive measures) and other times on a negative note, especially with new infections and rates rising.

In this New Year, we bring you the story of Annet Nanyonga* which perhaps could inspire you to a healthier lifestyle as we get closer to the 2015 goal of zero new infections.

Nanyonga's story:

As I moved up and down in my room one afternoon, I noticed I was missing my wallet. But it was not only the wallet. My bangles too were gone. I knew it wasn't a case of theft but I desperately needed the money in the wallet. What was I to do? Panicking, I ran from drawer to drawer, then the cupboard, under the carpet then oh, I remembered. I had helped out at the neighbour's and I had placed my small weekend bag in the guest room the previous day.

So I went to the neighbour's house and before I could mention my problem, the maid said: "Sorry uncle has just left and aunt Shafik escorted a visitor but you can come in and wait." I told her why I had actually come over and she told me she wasn't sure but could open the guest room for me to check.

The bag wasn't where I had left it, but when I peeped underneath the clothes, I found it. As I reached out for it, something sharp and piercing penetrated though my palm. It hurt so much I withdrew my hand so fast but the damage was already done. I called out to the maid as blood oozed out. The maid helped me fix a cloth on the wound and I left.

Later in the evening, auntie Shafik came to visit me. I think the maid told her about what had happened; so, she felt the need to console me, I presume. I was glad she came because I didn't want to look like I had broken into her house. To my surprise, that wasn't the reason she was at my house.

She told me that the razor that cut me apparently had just cut baby Shafik but most importantly, that she, Shafik's mother had HIV although they hadn't yet checked baby Shafik's status. They were still waiting for him to make a year because they feared he may turn out positive at a tender age. She told me she was in a discordant relationship with Taata Shafik.

My heart sunk. I was shocked and angry, although I didn't know who my anger was directed at.

"You can go for an HIV test at TASO," she encouraged me. Why should it be me? I had just gone to pick my bag; why did I forget my bag? Couldn't they trash the razor after it cut the baby? Why didn't the maid tell me to be careful? Unfortunately, all these questions could not help.

I called a friend who happens to be a health expert and he told me that testing immediately wouldn't help much; I had to wait three months before I could be sure. Nonetheless, I went to TASO and was warmly welcomed. A gentleman talked to me like he knew exactly how I was feeling and what I was going through. He explained to me all the terms of HIV/Aids including positive living and he told me since it was just the day before that I had been exposed, I could be enrolled onto something called PEP which he explained.

He requested me to tell my neighbour to bring the baby for testing since he was past six months which is the requirement for babies to be tested. That was equally good news for me because I could tell my status from the baby's results.

When I called mama Shafik, she promised to oblige since the doctors and counsellors of TASO knew her and she respected them. She brought the baby, got tested and after a few minutes of renewed tension and fear plus all sorts of imaginations, the mother was first called in. Later I was called in after she agreed it was okay for me to know the child's results in her presence.

"Well," the counsellor went on, "what would happen if this baby had the virus?" I gave him all my options which included, shifting from my neighbourhood and starting PEP immediately which he said he understood. He went ahead and advised on what I could do in case the baby turned out to be positive.

Remember we were just counting on the baby's results. He offered me all kinds of advice on how to avoid catching the virus in case I turned out negative but honestly, I was already tired of waiting for the results by this time. I should say all this talk helped me a lot and if it wasn't for it, I would be making the wrong choices right now.

Anyway, baby Shafik tested negative and I hadn't contracted the virus too. Last word: We need to live positively, avoid new HIV infections by being faithful and using condoms. Let us try to find information about HIV from all Aids support centres because a world without HIV is what we are all hoping for.

*We have changed the names to keep the storyteller's privacy

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