5 February 2016

Namibia: Wilhem Lukas - an HIV-Aids Activist Helps Out

analysis

TIME: 8h30. Place: Oluno clinic. The overall atmosphere is not depressing. Neither is the weather. Here and there people move sporadically to other places rather than where they are. This is an uncommon sight at such institutions.

I find myself in the office of Wilhem Lukas, an HIV-AIDS activist who has been living with the disease for 25 years. Here, at the clinic, he does pre- and post-test counselling of people with HIV-AIDS. He has been doing this for 15 years.

"Come in Marx. Come in brother. You are welcome." This was after I had gone around the building a couple of times asking every uniformed individual about the location of Lukas' office.

Squeezing myself between a queue of people -- whom I later learnt were there to receive their ARVs and others on follow up missions -- and a wall leading to Luckas' office, I tried my best to hide the fact that I was a journalist.

More especially that I know two or three faces that I crossed eyes with as they reside in Ondangwa, my home town. That did not bother me much and in no time I found myself siting opposite Lukas.

"All those people outside have come to collect their medicine. Today and Mondays are always full," he said softly. My guess, which turned out to be true, was that he had told his colleague and assistant of my visit beforehand.

I asked him why he was doing this type of work.

"I found out about my HIV-AIDS status in 1991. I was sick and was tested. The results came out positive. I thought about it and said it was the will of God, so let it be".

Lukas was open with The Namibian and answered every question with a high degree of interest and truthfulness. How did it affect you being positive then? I ask.

"I was not traumatised or whatsoever. I am a former Plan combatant who has seen comrades falling to enemy fire. This, I think, helped me to cope, so I did not go through what many people experience when they test positive," he added.

"In 1998 I decided to go public about my status."

What was the motive? The Namibian asked.

"You see, I was counselling people and they used to ask me how positive people look like. I then decided to show myself as an example," says the 50-year-old native of Omuntele in Oshikoto region. His decision to go public was well calculated though as he decided to tell his mother of his intention so that she could accompany him when he was going to disclose his status.

"I remember very well she told me that when we go there I should not say she was my mother because she did not want people to know that she had an HIV positive son," laughed Lukas, saying he now does not blame his mother as she did not have enough information about the disease then.

Lukas says after testing positive, he started working as a volunteer for a Dannish-funded NGO in Oshakati where he stayed for nine years. He says at the time he was tested up to 1999, there were no anti-retrovial drugs in Namibia and many people died of the disease daily.

He said his health deteriorated to an extent that he was sent to a doctor in Windhoek who, through the Danish funding, imported anti-HIV-AIDS drugs from South Africa. By then, however, the disease had taken its toll and paralysed him on one side. He now makes use of one leg and one arm.

"It helped me though. At least I am still alive." Lukas stressed that the Danish NGO soon left, and he joined the Namibian Red Cross who sent him to the Oluno clinic in Ondangwa. Here he educated people about the virus.

"I was subjected to non-stop ridicule. My family suffered immensely, but I did not give up," he said.

Lukas and his team are committed to assisting HIV-AIDS victims. "We tell them when they come for testing, to look at our personal lives and get inspiration from the courage and determination that people like me have," Lukas added.

As we talked, his assistant also chipped in with some explanations on health issues. His table is covered with patients' files and some ARV bottles.

Lukas says people come to the clinic everyday. Every person who wants to be tested sees him first for pre-testing counselling. After testing, the patient comes again for post-test counselling and if the patient is positive, another test for the CD4 count will be administered.

"This will determine whether or not the patient needs medication," he added.

The single father of two, whose elder child is studying in Tanzania for a doctorate in veterinary science, says that his team of five at the HIV-AIDS section of the clinic has made him proud.

"We are all working hard to ensure that people are tested and that they receive proper medication." Lukas, who stays alone despite his physical condition, encourages all Namibians to go for regular testing to see where they stand. "It is the best thing to do. Tomorow might be too late".

The last question I asked him was why he opted to live alone. "I told you I am a soldier. I bath, clean, cook and wash by myself. Yes, sympathetic people come now and then to help, but I always feel good being by myself," he concluded.

Soon, the murmuring coming from people in the queue outside the office told me it was time to go. We shook hands and I bade farewell to this brave 'son of the soil'.

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