KATIKU SHINES A LIGHT FOR OTHERS LIVING WITH HIV
By Francois Lottering
(NAMPA FEATURES SERVICE)
NYANGANA, 10 AUG (NAMPA) – No one ever wants to hear the words by a health practitioner, “Your test results are ready and it’s indicating that you are infected with HIV”.
Maria “Katiku” Kupembona, 42, got a similar message in 2004; however she decided this “death sentence” will not knock her over.
Kupembona told Nampa recently she was devastated and thought her life had come to an end. She, however, swiftly came to terms with the reality and decided not to let HIV shatter her dreams.
“Although the message is engraved in my memory, being diagnosed with HIV in fact made me stronger. I am even standing up to assist fellow HIV-positive patients to live with a positive attitude,” she said.
When health workers start with counselling sessions to guide the client on what to expect if the result is positive, fear remains a main factor, said Kupembona.
“Fear of rejection by a spouse and children, loved ones, community and employer.”
In her case, negative thoughts crossed her mind at the time. “But these negative waves changed the next day when I realised I’m still alive and can be of importance to others living with the virus.”
Meeting Kupembona at the Nyangana Catholic Hospital in the Kavango East Region, her posture oozes self-confidence and health.
This wife, mother of three and community health ambassador started antiretroviral treatment the year she was diagnosed, and she remains a staunch promoter of the antiretroviral (ARV) treatment for the prolonging of life.
Kupembona said when she was diagnosed HIV-positive, people avoided contact with her and did not want to give her food.
“It was like, ‘you are going to die anyway’,” she narrated.
Kupembona said she seeks neither attention nor fame sharing her story; she only wants to help others to not fall victim to the life-threatening virus.
“Do not become infected with HIV like me, people are supposed to be aware of the consequences of their acts,” she advised.
Her family supports her through her battle and it is the same support she gives to patients at the Nyangana Catholic Hospital, around 100 kilometres east of Rundu, encouraging them to stick to their medication as prescribed by health practitioners.
Initially shy to speak, Kupembona gradually opens up during the interview, more so after several other mothers with their babies greet her, asking about her health and family.
“Family is very important to everyone here,” remarked Kupembona, explaining that even when she goes to Rundu, her children will constantly call her and remind her to take her medication.
She started antenatal care (ANC) during the third month of her last pregnancy, and was advised by the doctors to carry on with the ARVs.
“After birth I went home and six weeks later, I brought my child back for a DNA PCR, and the tests came out negative,” Kupembona said. The DNA PCR is an advanced test to determine the HIV level in the baby.
Kupembona is still on treatment and breastfed her baby since birth until he turned five months old recently. She now only feeds her baby solid foods to ensure he grows well.
Registered nurse and midwife Diana Simundi from the same health facility at Nyangana told this agency they encourage HIV-negative women to undergo testing every three months so they can know their status.
They test newborns from HIV-positive mothers within 48 hours after birth to establish the baby’s status in case the mother defaulted on her ARV treatment. A baby can contract HIV while a mother is still pregnant, during delivery or after birth through breastfeeding, making early infant diagnosis critical.
In order to track these babies, the Nyangana hospital developed and introduced a system that tracks HIV-positive mothers, ensuring their babies are tested at six weeks, nine months and 18 months.
Within the last year, three babies in the Nyangana district were born HIV-positive, and all of them are currently on treatment.
Between the start of the tracking system in October 2015 and June 2016, the hospital team increased rates of tracking early infant diagnosis from 29.3 per cent to 94.4 per cent of all the babies born in Nyangana to HIV-positive mothers.
Nyangana Catholic Hospital’s work is supported by IntraHealth International in collaboration with Ministry of Health and Social Services, with financial support from United States Agency for International Development Namibia through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.