Some time ago, I got a call from Mr. Dapo Olorunyomi, Nigeria’s Country Director of Freedom House. Mr. Olorunyomi jumairequested that I refer a young woman who just tested HIV positive to a counselor who could quickly help her because she was already contemplating suicide. I decided immediately on Jumai Danuk. Jumai is a lawyer and HIV positive. She has been positive for at least five years.
I decided quickly because I knew that she shared similar circumstances with this young woman. Like Jumai was, the girl tested positive during her one-year compulsory youth service and like Jumai, she desperately wanted to die when she first discovered her situation.
But Jumai did not die. Because she chose to live, she was also able to talk this young woman out of committing suicide. Here is Jumai’s story.
Testing positive for HIV
Some few days into the NYSC (National Youth Service Corps) camp, I fell ill. The sickness actually started during law school. I had this lump on my neck and found it extremely difficult to turn my head, nor could I eat. I went to the hospital in Jos and underwent a biopsy. I was operated on. It was also there that they discovered I had developed tuberculosis. I had gone back for a routine check-up when, instead of seeing my doctor, I was referred to the consultant physician. When the consultant began post-HIV test counseling I just went livid. I told her no one told me I was being screened for HIV and that I hadn’t been pre-counseled before the test. I threatened to sue them even though I knew it was an empty threat because there were no legal instruments on ground in Nigeria that I could rely on to prosecute my case. I realized eventually that to these people, they were just trying to diagnose what was wrong with me.
Inside, I was already dead. I instantly lost every reason to want to live. You can imagine – just as I was passing out of law school and Mr. HIV just took permanent residence in my life. All my dreams, all my hopes, I thought they were gone. I was very close to my Dad and he said wished it were he and not I.
Expecting to die
I had to go to camp, but when I got there I was able to secure a sick leave so I went back to Jos to resume treatment. All this while, I was really hoping I could just die. Two weeks in Jos and I was worse than when I had left camp, but I had to go back. When the vehicle dropped me at Abia, I had to cross the road to where I could take a bike to camp. I was weak and I slumped right in the middle of the road. At the time, I was happy God was making it easy for me. Here was the opportunity to go, I thought. As I lay there in the middle of the road, all the vehicles refused to stop and I was saying in my mind, God, you could not be this wicked, finish what you have started. But he refused to yield to my pleadings. Then suddenly, everywhere became calm and in the quietness, I could hear a voice telling me to get up. It said, “would you get up? If I could bring you this far, do you think I would let you down now that you are getting better?” However, I never thought I was getting better. I had lost considerable weight and I was sick, but I had no choice but to get up and go.
Coming back to life
At the camp, they knew I was sick but they did not know it was HIV. My friends really took care of me. I could not tell them because I did not have the nerve then to do so. Moreover, I was more pre-occupied with dying than living. However, luckily for me, my family accepted that I was not going to die; they were determined to see me live. They gave me love, support and care. They were there for me. At that same time, I met an international group working on HIV in Jos and I got involved. This was where I got the information and education that further propelled my resolve for life. I became hungry for more information and I went on the internet and would read any material that had information about HIV. As time went on, I realized HIV might not be the reason I would die.
Because I was very active and now occupied, I had failed to see the changes that were taking place in my life. I became more confident, more relaxed and eventually, I began to really have concrete reasons to want to live again. I gained back my lost weight and my enthusiasm, and with them came a new drive to want to achieve. These days, when I encounter people who are contemplating death, I just laugh because death is cowardice. There is so much to live for, thinking of death is cowardice and is definitely not the solution to your HIV status: life is.
How long I could live
I finished from Queens College, Lagos and had wonderful friends. Hafsat Abiola was in my class, likewise other wonderful individuals who are doing wonderfully in their chosen fields. At the same time, quite a lot of those we were in school with had passed on. I doubt HIV is the cause of their death. I know somebody who has been living with HIV for 15 years, here in Nigeria, and he probably has been with it for longer because it takes 2-10 years before the sickness starts setting in and usually varies with individuals. I met someone in Bangkok who has been positive for 22 years, so I guess he may have had it for 25 or more years. You see, your chances really improve once you find the right intervention, not necessarily anti- retroviral drugs because it is not every one that has HIV that requires that type of treatment. Once you find your immune booster — good diet, an excellent mental and emotional state including a positive attitude towards yourself and to life — then your life is in your hand. In addition, answering your question, any one with HIV can live for as long as God wants, that is the reality.
If you have just tested HIV positive
I will say take charge of your life. Do not worry about death, because we are all going to die anyway. Death can never be a way out. Rather, think of life and how you can live. Importantly, do not disclose until you are comfortable with your status. Wait until you are able to accept yourself, when you are sure you have accepted where you are. You should confide in a few people who you can be sure of their support, because support and love is critical to overcoming initial setbacks. As you build more confidence and you feel more confident, gradually you will realize that HIV is not as difficult as the media and people will want us to believe. Since my initial sickness, I have not had any serious health problems. My immunity is great, and my CD 4 count is ok. Of course, as time goes on, you will see reasons to want to live, because you can.