Monday, April 19, 2010

Love , Hope and HIV

In the early days of counselling HIV+ people ( up till about 2005) it was strongly discouraged for HIV positive people to engage in new relationships, especially if the partner was HIV-. And the topic of pregnancy and families was completely taboo - you were simply told not to fall pregnant. Ever.

What a long way we have come in a few short years. I cringe to think of the strong arm tactics that were used in the name of 'counselling'. In fact, if any of you watch the local soapie Isidingo, you will recall that this was about the time that Nandipha was found to be HIV+. And five years later, she is still sticking to the belief that she must never fall pregnant. I think Isidingo needs to get some up to date medical advice on this topic. I think Generations does a much better job of dealing with the issue.

Is there a place for Love in your life when you are HIV positive?

It is heartbreaking for me to come across young adults and teenagers who have had the devastating diagnosis made, and who feel their entire future is erased, scratched out. I cannot fall in love and marry ( in case I infect him/her), I cannot have children (in case I infect him/her and the child), I will have no family of my own and will grow old alone and lonely...  These are some of the thought processes that flow naturally after the diagnosis. I am sad to say this is still a common misconception even among health care workers, the very people tasked with educating and counselling.

I counselled a young man recently, who is only a teenager. He was despondent about the loss of his future and had had thoughts of suicide. He was not so concerned about the virus he was infected with, as with the effect that this virus would have on his hopes, dreams and life. Now, in these sort of situations I tend to give three short messages of hope:

1) An HIV positive person can fall in love and marry whomever they choose (HIV positive or negative) and live a long life together without infecting/reinfecting the loved one.
2) An HIV positive person can have a family with healthy HIV negative children who have a bright future ahead of them and two healthy parents to watch them matriculate, get married and bear their grandchildren
3) An HIV positive person can live a completely normal life and can die of old age.

Now, these are all possible. Sure, they require some planning and effort and alot of honesty and team work. But, with good health care, commitment to your medications, healthy lifestyle choices and careful planning it is all possible.

Each day is a day to reclaim your health and to rebuild your future. Sure, it will be different to the pre-HIV vision, but you can still have it all. Be responsible and proactive and it all becomes possible.