The year was 1999. Joseph Makuyana, 45, was rapidly losing weight and could not shake a severe cough. He went to his local health clinic to seek treatment, assuming he had contracted tuberculosis. When the test came back negative, the nurse encouraged him to take an HIV test. He consented and, shortly afterwards, learned that he was HIV-positive.
Due to stress and depression following his diagnosis, Jacob lost his job as a chef in a local restaurant. For seven years he survived by giving his testimony on various meetings for AIDS organisations around the city. But this only offered a small living stipend.
Makuyana’s life changed in 2008 when he received a call from the Professional Development Trust (PDT), an organisation that provides higher learning opportunities in the health sector with support from the United States under the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
PDT offered Jacob a full-time position as a HIV counsellor, which he began immediately at various clinics and hospitals in Chipinge.
In an interview with The Zimbabwean last week, Makuyana, who is not married, said: “I had become hopeless about my life. Now I am proud to celebrate ground-breaking news of patients being functionally cured of HIV. I am proud to share my story with the world.
During his spare time he does motivational speaking in the community for no charge. “I even privately help couples who have just been diagnosed to come to terms with their new reality. Sometimes only one of them tests positive and I help them deal with living together despite their difference HIV statuses,” he explained.
“My life changed from awful to astounding after I started working for the Professional Development Trust. It excels in educating people how to identify and gain life skills to deal with the problems of life. People in my country desperately need the help that they trained me to give,” he added.
Makuyana said anti-retroviral drugs were now more widely available than ever before across Zimbabwe. “And I know from first-hand experience how crucial it is to be able to confide in somebody trustworthy, compassionate and able to steer HIV positive people to the help they need.
So let’s keep talking. Let’s figure out how we can reach those in need of life-saving services. Let’s support the research we need to make the next medical milestone a reality. Let’s demystify HIV and AIDS so that people feel comfortable talking about how to protect themselves. Let’s share stories.”
Samson Makiwa, who is HIV positive, admitted that the counselling he received from Makuyana has been very helpful. “I have been receiving counselling from Joseph. He told me to remain unaffected by the stigma surrounding the HIV illness,” he said.
Diagnosed with HIV in 2006, Makiwa only began taking antiretroviral treatment (ART) in 2008. ART is that boosts the immune system, or the CD4+T cell count in a patient’s body, to help them fight off sicknesses that otherwise have free rein in the body due to the breakdown of the person’s own immune system as a result of the HIV virus.
“My first wife passed away together with our child, because she didn’t understand what HIV was and that she was positive,” said Makiwa. He said Makuyana helped him turn this grief-stricken past into hope for the future.
“Joseph told me that being positive was not a death sentence to me,” he said. Makiwa he is also now determined to encourage people infected and affected by HIV.
PDT Manicaland focal person James Guvheya said: “We are creating a safe environment where Zimbabweans of all ages can move beyond the guilt and shame that cause so many people to lie about, hide and deny their HIV status.
“We are finally making progress. Our honest approach is saving lives and slowing the spread of AIDS, because people are more honest in admitting it and getting the help they need.”Post published in: Health