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People couldn't believe I have AIDS because of my good look

Posted by By AZOMA CHIKWE on 2005/05/24 | Views: 771 |

People couldn't believe I have AIDS because of my good look


Programme Officer and anti-HIV/AIDS activist, Eunan Enyia, is still in shock at what he experienced and saw in Ogoja, Cross River State recently in a HIV awareness campaign sponsored by Chicago-based Nigeria-American Public Professionals Association (NAPPA).

Programme Officer and anti-HIV/AIDS activist, Eunan Enyia, is still in shock at what he experienced and saw in Ogoja, Cross River State recently in a HIV awareness campaign sponsored by Chicago-based Nigeria-American Public Professionals Association (NAPPA).

Enyia, who has been living positively with the virus for some years, now told Daily Sun that the first real challenge he had in the campaign was convincing the people there that he was HIV positive. He said they simply couldnít believe it because he was not emaciated, lean and skeletal, because they believe that anybody who has HIV must be emaciated, lean or skeletal.

Enyia lamented that the second thing that hit him was the misconception among the natives that HIV is a spiritual disease. Owing to this belief, he said, the villagers isolated anybody who is HIV positive. They are sent to the bush to die or a make-shift grave where he is fed skeletally until they pass on. They equally believe that HIV can be contracted by touching an infected person.
When the natives were asked to do voluntary HIV test, they swore that they would rather commit suicide than do HIV test, saying that testing positive to HIV is a death sentence.
Enyia recounted some of his experiences to Daily Sun.

Breaking of silence
In the first place, I have never lived in silence as far as this HIV is concerned. As soon as I got involved in this HIV work, Iíve been talking, Iíve been presenting myself in places.
I donít bother myself so much whether they believe. I am HIV positive or not. The important thing is that those who want to believe could believe. And what I am saying is that people should come out and do their test to know if they are HIV positive or not. If they are, it is not everybody who need drugs, they can be encouraged to live positively like every other person who is positive and is living. We keep assuring them this.

I met my friends in Ogoja. I told them that I'm HIV positive. They wouldnít believe it.
Why we encourage people to break their silence is that when we donít come to admit the truth about living with HIV, and living healthily, it will be difficult for people to believe it in the first place. Do you know that? And now even when some of us are talking about it they donít want to believe you, they doubt you because you are healthy. That is the only problem they have, your healthy appearance. They say you cannot be positive, itís not true.

Ogoja experience
Like what happened to us in Ogoja when we went, they almost tore our dresses, for daring to say we are HIV positive, and they said we were bringing curse to our families. That, even if we are looking for money, should we go to the extent of saying that we were HIV positive? In fact, our leader, a lady specially had a more bitter experience. They almost tore her dress for wearing a T-shirt with the inscription ĎIím HIV positiveí because she is a beautiful lady. It is as bad as that.

The people doing this are not only the natives. Ogoja is a cosmopolitan town. People from different parts of the country are there. We thought we had to go to the streets, we wore our T-shirts, clapping our hands, holding our hands and moving in the street. They said so you have come to spread the HIV if you are positive in the first place. The hotel that we stayed, it was not easy for us there. After the hotel management saw us carrying out advocacy in the town, when we came back in the evening, they started asking questions. They said this thing we are saying, are we serious or we are doing the job government sent us to come and do?

Catholic hospital
The Catholic Missionary in a place called Monaya in Ogudu is the only hospital working on HIV/AIDS that has been showing care and treating people. Even at that, we met over 100 people there and what I am telling you is that the category we met was category 4 of people who are down with AIDS. No management whatsoever.

Is it the leprosy centre where we went? We met people who cannot even buy pap to drink, who are down, who need care and support. Their parents, their brothers will abandon them in the hospital and leave as soon as they know they are HIV positive.

What of a particular case where they put somebody in a grave alive? He was not dead yet. What happened was that he was sick for months. He wouldnít get well. His brother claimed that a particular juju was responsible for his sickness, and if he dies anybody that touches him will contract the HIV, and die too. The brother waited for a long time, the man did not die. He went and dug a big hole, not really a grave, a big hole and put him inside with a loaf of bread and a container of water, so that he will die in the bush.

And children who were hunting birds with catapults in the bush stumbled on the man and came back to the community and raised alarm. The community brought in the police, but before the police came, the brother has gone to the bush to bring him back to town. The man died few weeks after.

Somebody came to call us that something was happening. What we went there to see was a man who exhibited all the symptoms of AIDS, by my little training. I asked him what is your problem? He said he was hungry and weak. He was tired, weak, he had not been eating; he is hungry. He has been stooling, he had rashes all over his body, he had lost his weight totally. I tried the best I can to clean him up.

And people were looking at me, they were wondering why I should be touching such a person?
I called the family and told them that they need to keep the man close to themselves, telling them that this stigma against the man was enough to kill him. There was really nothing we could do at that point, because he was left outside almost naked. We tried the much we could to talk to the family and at least convince them to wear him clothes.

They wore him back his clothes, and took him from where they abandoned him in the bush back to the house after I had convinced them that they wonít get infected.
The first thing I did was to go and hold him at least to show them that nothing would happen. If I would die by touching him, I wouldnít have gone to touch him because I donít want to die, then they began to have a little belief and took him back to the house.

Then we went and bought beverages for him, for the first time as a long while, the man took beverages. He couldnít even eat much, his intestines were tight. And the man was so happy, and said even if he was going to die, we had done well.
We told him we are going to come back for him. Before we could go back there, he couldnít last, he had died. That was how the man died.

And thatís how the entire community feels. Thatís how the majority of people in Northern Crow River feels, that HIV has no cure. In fact, it has no remedy and it can be transmitted through spiritual means. They believe that most of the cases are spiritual.

You need to see how they reacted when we suggested that they should come for HIV test. Some said they would rather die than do HIV test. It was difficult for us. They said once you test positive, no cure, no help, you are dead.

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Fay(Katy, Texas, US)says...

Actually translates to bravehearted.