I had the opportunity to spend a day at the fevers unit of the Korle bu Teaching Hospital not for research purposes or as a patient but for the experience. The fevers unit of Ghana’s biggest hospital counsels and treats HIV positive patients. Until this experience I had not had any personal contact or close relationship with an HIV patient. The campaigns shown in the media were as close as I came to the virus. The personal experience which turned out to be very relatable gave me a different perceptive of the HIV issue. I call it an issue because of the problem of stigmatization I believe which still exists upon all efforts by stakeholders to flush or minimize it. My experience begun when I took a taxi from my house to the hospital I made my destination known to the driver to take me there because that was very first visit .As soon as I told him where I was headed to his demeanor changed and asked me if I was going there for injections. I immediately realized he assumed I was HIV positive but Instead of replying a simple ‘no’ ,I asked him if there would have been any problem if I was indeed going there for an injection or to be treated as a HIV positive patient . I didn’t think of the impact of my response at the time but it ended our conversation on the subject and my companion did not respond to my question. I pondered over his attitude later on and related it to society’s general attitude towards people living with HIV .Why did the taxi driver not respond to my question? I sat at the ward waiting to have a brief interview with the doctor in charge. I met very courageous women and I am referring to women because most of the patient there were women. I wondered what the statistics would be for the number of women and men infected and living the virus. As I sat there a lot of thought ran through my mind I tried to imagine how each one of them got infected. I found myself moving as they moved to see the doctor in the waiting room. I did feel like I lived in their shoes for a day. I didn’t know what to feel. Was it pity, sorrow ,fear, betrayal? Desperate for some answers my eyes kept moving from one person to the other. They were ordinary people just like you and I. I wondered what the challenges each of them were facing due to stigmatization. Some of the women just wanted to share their stories and once they started others joined in. I eavesdropped on a lot of the stories. What I found amazing is that they shared their stories with each other confiding in each other and recommending supplement that will keep them healthy. I didn’t get the chance to talk to any of them personally but I overheard one unforgettable story. A woman shared her story about how her twin babies were not infected. ‘Praise the Lord!’ another woman said rejoicing with her .Then she added ‘I am not afraid of anything, anymore the worse has happened to me if it wasn’t the fuss people are making about it I wouldn’t be so bothered about it’ I admired their courage, each of them. I later found out that one of the ladies had not used her real name on her hospital card. According to the Ernest Kenu one of the doctors at the unit changing names or not using full names at the hospital is very common because the problem of stigmatization still exist. I had a chilling experience at the unit. I felt like I had to live with the HIV virus for a day just by spending time with those courageous women. I learnt what I had already heard in HIV campaigns that people living with the virus are just like you and I. I can’t imagine how devastating stigmatization will be for people who are actually living with the virus. I hope that more attention is given to women especially the African society concerning gender sensitive issues especially with sexual reproductive health issues.
- Never Forget