Thursday 1 December 2022

World AIDS Day 2022

Beyond a fateful diagnosis

This is my 20th World AIDS Day since my HIV positive diagnosis and I cannot tell for how long I might have contracted the virus before it was confirmed after a very developed and stringent testing regime, what matters is with a medical verification of my status, certain things needed to change.

I guess what changed the most in my life was my outlook between the idea that I might not have much time left to doing everything possible to enjoy whatever time I am fortunate to have to tell a better story beyond diagnosis.

Yet, living with HIV brought both adventure and the mundane, the mundane as in as the virus ravaged my body, I ignored what the consequences might be as year after year others noticed my apparently failing health.

The onset of AIDS

It was in the 7th year of my diagnosis that things took a turn for the worse, early in year, much as I was in my professional peak, a dark brownish stain appeared under my left sole, something I dismissed as athlete’s foot and on inspection by a doctor in Spain, never came to much of a comment. Yet, I was conscious enough to want to hide expanding dark mark when I was reclining in a deck chair by the pool, because someone did come to ask about it.

By Spring, my energy levels were down, I spent Easter in Geneva with my best friend after which I was back on the job market. Then by mid-Summer I had a bout of shingles that came and went in 2 weeks with the blessing of no post-hepatic neuralgia, though my foot was now becoming a problem.

What was manifesting in August was a painful sore that I could not walk without my foot being heavily bandaged and no amount of painkillers could assuage the pain, I tested the limits of my ability to endure pain. I had developed full-blown AIDS presenting as Kaposi’s sarcoma, a virulent skin cancer and it was screaming on my left foot.

The legacy of the early sufferers

My gratitude and good fortune for the sadness and the celebration of World AIDS Day comes from the fact that many young men perished because of AIDS and the lack of help to treat the diseases that came as a result of contracting the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), many also had the painful lesions of Kaposi’s sarcoma leading to fully emaciated and painful deaths.

When I went into hospital delirious in pain after my doctor in the Netherlands instituted emergency measures to get me seen by specialists because on the first sight of my foot, she said, “This looks serious, I need to refer you.” The professor who came down to see me immediately said, “We have a bed for you upstairs.”

I was at the point where advancements in HIV medicine gave the consultant the confidence that medicine did not have a decade before, because he said, “We can treat this, but it depends on how you can take the treatment.” The prognosis was I would be fine if I could tolerate the treatment, or I will be gone in 5 weeks if I could not.

Indeed, my survival comes down to the many whose treatments that variously failed but redounded to the body of knowledge and expertise that grew over decades, I am one of the fortunate ones who came back from the looking death in the face to live and thrive. It always gives me pleasure to interact with medical students when they attend my biannual consultations, because I hope that in some small way, I inspire them about the power and miracle of progressive medicine that can treat diseases that were once untreatable.

On celebrating World AIDS Day

This is what World AIDS Day means to me, the need to know your status and embrace the result with promptly accessing medical options available. In 2002, you were not immediately put on antiretrovirals, even in 2005, they were thinking of treating a Vitamin B deficiency rather than the virus.

World AIDS Day is about everyone affected and infected, privately or publicly, silently or in advocacy, proudly or stigmatised, we need to come out and bring an end to the scourge of HIV whilst making the very efficacious treatments freely available to everyone touched by HIV. I am also grateful to the health services in The Netherlands and the UK, the consultants, doctors, nurses and personnel who have devoted time and resources to seeing the end of HIV.

And where would I be without the support of friends, family, neighbours, lovers, and the wider community that blessed me with their humanity and generosity, to them all, I owe a debt of unstinting gratitude. I am blessed.

Here’s to World AIDS Day 2022 because there is still much to be done and I hope that when the work is complete, it would be celebrated in memory of the many who sacrificed life and being to bring an end to HIV and AIDS.

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