Charity had been on Anti Retroviral Therapy for the past five years. She had regained her weight and was no longer ill, as was the case years before commencing ART. She has vowed never to stop taking the drugs.
Her story is common among many people, who after testing HIV positive, are determined to get well.
They adhere to the stipulated medical regime and in no time regain lost ground. It is usually when one is ill that one sets a strict adherence timetable but as the years go by, some people relax.
Charity, being an early bird, decided that she would take her medication at 5am and 5 in the evening. She would make sure she had a plate of steaming hot porridge before she took her medication in the morning.
She adhered and never missed on taking her medication for the first three years but as the years went by, she got comfortable and would miss the set times.
She even said she doubted if she really was HIV positive. Since she did not get ill after defaulting for a few days, she got comfortable and even told herself that she no longer needed the drugs.
Charity said she could not stand the re-counselling sessions which on the first session was more of a reprimand lesson, so she just stopped coming altogether.
She thought her problems were over as she was prescribed the same tablets and went home smiling again.
Charity is attending some physiotherapy sessions as she learns to walk again.
Cosmas is another man who walked in the shadow of death after having defaulted. Makwere (36), who lives in Mabvuku suburb in Harare, said he is grateful that his mother came all the way to South Africa and had him put back on ART.
“I had been on ART for some years and when I got well I just relaxed and stopped taking the medication,” said Makwere. He said that he just got comfortable and stopped taking ARVs when he was working in Sophiatown in South Africa.
“In South Africa they have a database, so they kept phoning and sending me messages to come but I ignored. “I suddenly fell ill and was no longer able to go to work.
My nephew who I lived with contacted my mother who came all the way from Harare and took me back to the hospital where she begged them to treat me as a matter of urgency,” said Makwere.
“Like all defaulters, one is taken back to counseling and it took me two weeks after my mother had pleaded that the one month that I had to take was too long.
“She needed to get back to Zimbabwe where she had left other children. That is how I managed to be put back on ART,” said Makwere.
Makwere was given a transfer later and today a year after his homecoming he is recovering from a severe bout of TB.
Adherence is the cornerstone of positive living, so is eating healthy food, exercising, getting enough sleep and avoiding unnecessary high stress levels.
When one begins to take ARVs they must fully adhere or comply with the set regime.
Unlike other medicines which can be taken without adhering to a strict timetable, that is not so with ARVs.
Locally, depending with one’s doctor, one is advised to take them at stipulated times, say 6am and 6pm each day.
So keeping time is a factor that is reiterated in one getting back on the road to full recovery. A doctor speaking on condition of anonymity said it was better for one not to even start taking ARVs than to default.
He said that it was a dangerous minefield that never need be traversed. “Adherence minimises the risk of the HIV virus from getting resistant to that medication,” said the doctor.
“When the virus resists ARVs the virus adapts to the medication and this results in the medication being ineffective. The virus therefore multiples and is difficult to contain,” he added.
Mr Richman Rangwani the founder of Simbarashe Network of PLHIV said the problem of defaulting was a result of a person not having disclosed status.
“If one has disclosed to any family member, it is difficult to default because someone will ask you if you have taken your tablets.
“So with a defaulter, I see characteristics of someone living in a closet,” he said.
For those on ARVs, if there is anything they do not understand and need clarification, then they should ask their health providers rather than make fatal conclusions to their lives. May you understand.