By Toyin Adepoju
In a developing country like Nigeria, with highly valued socio-cultural, religious and traditional beliefs, the understanding and complete acceptance of people living with HIV/AIDS, may prove almost impossible. The story of Bukky Adetola, one of many Nigerians living with this virus would convince you, beyond every reasonable doubt that the above stated is true.
Being a Broadcast Journalist and ardent Humanitarian always on the lookout for issues affecting persons in my immediate society, Bukky’s passion about “liberating” other HIV-positive Nigerians living in self-inflicted solitude seemed to be what heightened my interest in her story. Shortly after we conversed, I invited her to share her story via my radio show.
Watching her narrate her experience right from the moment she was diagnosed with HIV was quite uplifting and saddening at the same time. Uplifting, in that it portrayed her strength as a woman and saddening, to hear of the terrible things she had gone through.
Bukky Adetola is a beautiful, young lady who as at 2012, would never have expected her life to take an unexpected turn. She was just graduating from the university and had met the person who, as at that time, she thought was her soul mate. After getting acquainted in courtship, they got married about a year later and were enthusiastic about starting a family. But this was not to be. Reality hit just a few months after their wedding when Bukky had to visit the hospital for medical check-up. She had been down with fever and needed to be treated. At the clinic, the test results revealed she was HIV positive.
Shattered wouldn’t be the best word to describe what and how she felt upon receiving the news but that wouldn’t stop her from doing what was right. Since it was unknown to her, exactly how she contracted the virus, the well-being of her husband seemed to be of more importance. She then asked that her husband be summoned to the doctor’s office, and when he arrived, he was informed of Bukky’s health condition. Right there and then, he promised to take good care of her.
However, he declined the request of his wife and the medical advice of the doctor to have a test done so as to be in-the-know of his health status. According to Bukky, her husband said he was “fine”.
He was not fine. Bukky’s husband only kept to his promise of taking good care of her – for just one week. Thereafter, he isolated himself from her. He wouldn’t eat the food she cooked nor would he allow for any face-to-face interaction.
“He’d often come home at odd hours drunk. And when it got worse, he wouldn’t return home for days,” Bukky narrated.
“At that point, I thought the situation couldn’t get any worse. But my husband soon called a meeting with his family and other relatives where he disclosed my health status to everyone present.
“He then asked me to leave his home and my job, threatening to tell everyone at my workplace I am HIV positive if I resisted.”
The fear of stigmatization sent Bukky, a young, intelligent lady with a promising future, away from her home and workplace.
Since her marriage failed, Bukky had tried to get herself back on track. She had met several men who either took off after she told them her health status or stayed a little longer; long enough to cart away some of her valuables. She admitted meeting other people living positively with HIV who advised her to keep her health status secret. But Bukky has a conscience, she wouldn’t do that.
“I let them realize that I don’t have the conscience of not telling him when we would be living under the same roof,” she explained.
Then at the breaking point, she realized that isolating herself would only kill her without giving life a fight at all, the idea of reaching out to people living with HIV and giving them a sense of belonging a sense of belonging then appealed to her.
“When loneliness was about killing me, I sat down and realize that I don’t think I really need to be lonely for the rest of my life… There are so many people out there that are also in this state I’m in and I think they don’t need to be lonely for the rest of their lives too…”
From Bukky’s story, it can be deduced that people living with HIV/AIDS don’t just suffer the health consequences of being infected, they also suffer from stigma and inhumane discrimination which has reduced to a terrible extent, the ability of individuals, families and various world societies to protect themselves and provide support and reassurance to those living with HIV/AIDS.
In Nigeria, people living with HIV/AIDS are often tagged as “sinners”, believed to be promiscuous by the majority. They are regarded as people of immoral behavior who have been punished for their sins through the disease. Despite several campaigns constantly running on both local and international media about the virus; the numerous ways it can and cannot be contracted, it seems as though the level of ignorance keeps skyrocketing.
People living with HIV/AIDS are forced to live lives of rejection and isolation. They suffer from prejudice and social exclusion both in the family, among friends and the larger society, birthing a drastic reduction in self-esteem, frustration, depression and suicidal attempts. Those infected may be forced to carry out their frustration on the society by deliberately spreading the disease in a way or the other. As scary as this may sound, not every person living with HIV/AIDS is as level-headed as Bukky and would resist every urge to go through such drastic measures as deliberately infecting others in a bid to “get even” with the society.
Whatever the case may be, the society shouldn’t be in the position to dictate to people living with HIV/AIDS, whether or not to disclose their health status. The environment should be one in which those infected can disclose their health status when and how they please, without any pressure whatsoever, being rest assured of unflinching understanding and acceptance by the society.
Oluwatoyin Adepoju is a rights enthusiast. She is currently the head of programs at splashfm1055 Ibadan. She can be reached on: firstname.lastname@example.org