Ms Ophelia talks to AFRIS, December 8th, 2012

AIDS talk marks AFRIS end of year party

It was meant to be an end of year party. There was a lot of food from three different countries – Gambia, Ghana and Nigeria. The attendance was good and there were quite a few new faces. But this year’s AFRIS end of year gathering will be remembered most for something else other than the good food that was around. AFRIS arranged for an HIV carrier, who is also an activist in the spread of knowledge about the illness, to chat with the gathering. It turned out to be a very successful evening.

Ms Ophelia Haaniyama, looking quite healthy, gave an interesting talk about her experiences as a carrier of the virus and, in the process, provided a lot of vital first hand information about HIV/AIDS. Born in Zambia, Ms Ophelia, 45, moved to London early in her life. She got the virus through normal heterosexual love. It was nothing extraordinary, just the kind of loving friendships that any African youth will indulge in. In her case, one of them proved to be a dangerous liaison. She was diagnosed in the early 90s.

Ms Haaniyam described her feelings on first learning about her infection. With her first diagnosis, she knew she had about two years to contract AIDS. The treatment regime was tough then and involved taking up to 30 tablets a day. There have been improvements on the medical front and by the year 2000, the number of daily tablet intake had reduced considerably. Today’s medicines are also more effective in holding back the disease. One of the side effects of the medicines is depression.

Ms Ophelia has two grown up kids one of whom was born to her Swedish boyfriend while she was carrying the virus. It was a story of subterfuge and artifice as one considered whether, and how, to tell a partner while at the same time endeavouring not to infect that partner. In her case, things turned out well. After treatments, home insemination, and no breastfeeding, the baby was declared HIV negative after the mandatory 18 months.

Among the vital information about HIV/AIDS includes the following:

  • There are only three know ways of getting the virus: sex (which has a risk level of 0.3%, mother to baby (25%), and blood transfusing with the highest rate of infection
  • It never goes from father to child since the virus cannot exist in sperm cells
  • The virus cannot exist more than one hour outside the body. A blood clot from a carrier cannot necessarily infect someone who is not exposed to it through a cut
  • Newly infected people are at the highest risk of transferring it to others
  • It is not transferred through hugging, shaking of hands or kissing if there are no sores in the mouth. But infected people would do well not to hug people who have the common cold.
  • Only a blood test can definitely determine if a person is carrying the virus

She then talked about her work with NOAH’s ark and encouraged people to walk in to her centre at any time to have a free test for HIV. Modern testing methods mean the results can be attained within a short time.

After her presentation, questions were invited from the audience. This brought out many more interesting aspects of the subject. One of the things questioners wanted to know was why African rates seem to be so high. Ms Ophelia’s explanation was that African men and women are fond of having several sexual partners at the same time. This increases the risk of a single person spreading it to a few sexual partners. She referred to the practice of Swedish girls who may have different sexual partners but not concurrently. They stay true to one partner, even if for a short time, and will finish off an affair before going on to the next partner.

The basic question about the difference between HIV and AIDS was also asked. She explained this by saying HIV refers only to the virus. A career of the virus may eventually develop AIDS which is the diseased state. AIDS is the breakdown of the body’s immune system which makes the sufferer easily susceptible to other forms of diseases which may eventually cause death. She then gave some more technical information about the variants of the virus – HIV I, II, I A B, etc.

Ms, who arrived at the place with her boyfriend who was not infected, was also asked about how she did with him. She carefully explained how it is possible to guard oneself even in a relationship in which one partner was not infected.

After the speech, many people gathered around Ophelia, shaking hands and hugging her. There were many who wanted to take pictures with her. For many people, it was the first time they had come in contact with a person carrying the virus. The encounter may have positively changed the views of many people about HIV persons.

GUSS correspondent, Jan, 2013


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