sOME people have lived with HIV for many years without the need for anti-retroviral treatment. ARVs are necessary when one’s health deteriorates. When one has their health monitored it may not be necessary to start ARV treatment.
ARV starts when the CD4 count is below 350 as recommended by the World Health Organisation. One can also start ART on the recommendation by a doctor when clinically found to be very ill. A patient in stage 4 of HIV, even in the absence of a CD4 count, is deemed in dire need of anti-retroviral therapy.
This stage usually manifests itself through an HIV positive person getting tuberculosis, pneumonia, developing skin rashes and a host of other opportunistic infections such as thrush, diarrhoea and meningitis.
Namibia has many people who have lived with the disease for a long time and are still not on the drugs. I know many people who have lived for more than a decade without taking ARVs.
“The first step after testing HIV positive was to accept my new status. Acceptance is the most important aspect of positive living and without that even medicine is bound to fail,” said Meme Naule (not her real name), one of the first people to be tested positive in Namibia.
“I routinely tested patients back then in the 1990s when I was still working as a nurse. I had to undergo an operation so in 1996 that is when I took an HIV test. I was in denial for sometime but my working experience at the hospital where I worked made me change that attitude.
“My biggest challenge was that ARV drugs were not available locally and I had to make do with other remedies. Only the sheer determination to live carried me through,” she said.
“Correct nutrition, a balanced diet of carbohydrates which are found in starchy foods and cereals give energy. Vitamins from fruits and vegetables help fight diseases. Minerals from vegetables like spinach and pumpkins also ward off diseases and keep one strong. Proteins from fish, beans, eggs and milk are essential as they make the body strong.”
Meme Naule said she had to ensure that she had the food for a balanced diet. She started a garden where she grew vegetables. She reared chickens for her family’s needs. She also had support from her mother and her sisters in the UK.
Meme Naule only started taking ARVs in 2009 after her doctor advised her to do so. “I was started on antiretroviral therapy in 2009. It was not because I was ill but due to stress from my workload. My doctor felt that my CD4 count would go down as I fought for the rights of people living with HIV,” she said.
She gave praise to her mother who stood by her and counselled her in times of need. Her mother today refers people to her when she sees someone ill or living in denial.
SafAids in their handbook titled “How to Stay Healthy and Live Longer with HIV Without Using Antiretroviral Drugs” says: “The will to live is the strongest medicine, the body will respond in a good way and the quality of life will improve. Thus the will to live is the greatest followed by a positive mind, believing in oneself and remembering that you are valuable.”
It is possible to live a healthy normal life before commencing ARVs if you have the will to live.