By Irene Sinoya, World Vision Communications Specialist, Kenya
A few years ago, 26-year-old Felix was living a healthy life just like most people in Kenya’s Nyamira County.
He then started experiencing flu-like symptoms including fever, headache, rash and sore throat.
As the illness persisted, Felix decided to visit a nearby health facility where he was offered HIV testing and counselling.
He was shocked when he tested positive for the disease. Being a teenager at the time, he could not figure out how his future life would look like.
“I came to know about my status in 2010 after I visited a hospital for HIV testing. I could not believe that the results were positive since I was a teenager and my ways were upright. I left the hospital disturbed and confused. And it happened at a time when I was about to start my secondary education,” says Felix.
Despite being HIV positive, Felix was in denial and he refused to start taking medication.
“I told myself that I wasn’t positive and that the HIV test kits at the hospital were faulty,” he says.
The infection progressively weakened Felix’s immune system. He developed other severe symptoms of the diseases such as swollen lymph nodes, rapid weight loss, incessant fever, diarrhoea and coughs.
When the pain became unbearable at school, Felix opted to go back home to seek medical care.
Since he was an orphan, he decided to disclose the news to his elder brother who was sceptical about the information.
The two went to hospital for confirmatory tests. His brother’s results turned out to be HIV negative. As for Felix, the HIV infection was detected with great accuracy on the test kits. It was evident that he had the virus in his system.
This pushed him to begin taking antiretroviral (ARV) drugs because he was left with no choice. But he did so inconsistently and grudgingly.
Most of the time, he would default on the medication, which resulted in an increased amount of HIV viral load in his body as the virus kept multiplying. As such, his health was on a downward trend and Felix feared for his life.
Eventually, a breakthrough came.
World Vision enrolled Felix in a training forum that enlightened him on the importance of taking ARV drugs. This was made possible through the support of the Global Fund, Kenya Red Cross Society and the Nyamira County Health department
“I came to understand that the drugs were important for managing the disease. Even though they don’t cure the infection, they prevent the virus from multiplying in the body. This helps to boost the immunity and fight infection,” he states.
Felix is now a peer educator in his community. He teaches the youth on the importance of adhering to HIV prevention and management guidelines such as abstinence, the use of condoms among couples and adherence to ARV treatment drugs.
He leads by example and has never defaulted on his medication. Felix always takes his ARVs on time, as prescribed by his doctors. He has now become a role model in his community.
“Most of my peers who are HIV positive were defaulting on medication. They used to believe that spreading the virus to those who did not have it would cure them. I have enlightened them and now they are taking drugs consistently. They have also refrained from risky sexual behaviours and are now living healthy lives,” states Felix.
He notes that adhering to HIV treatment and embracing a healthy lifestyle enabled him to finish his secondary school and pursue his life dreams. He is now married with a child. This is a feat he never thought he would achieve, due to his HIV status.
“I got married to my childhood friend, Faith, whom I had known for years. Before proposing to her, I disclosed that I was HIV positive. It wasn’t easy to take this step and I was afraid that she would reject me. But I chose to be honest and was prepared to live with whichever decision she would make,” recalls Felix.
Contrary to his expectations, Faith accepted his proposal. To her, getting a man who would disclose such sensitive information to a lady was a blessing.
“I could not reject Felix’s proposal. Instead, I admired his courage. Disclosing his HIV status to me meant that he really cared about me. Out there, many people are deliberately infecting their HIV negative partners. Marrying him is one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life,” says Faith happily.
Through the support of World Vision, in partnership with the Global Fund, Kenya Red cross Society and the Nyamira County Health department, the couple has been advised on the measures to adhere to, so as to prevent Faith from being infected.
“I take ARV drugs consistently and my wife also uses HIV preventive pills, commonly known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) drugs. To date, she has remained healthy and free of the virus. She also gave birth to our child who is also negative,” says a beaming Felix.
Despite being a discordant couple, (referring to a situation where one partner is infected and the other is free of the virus), the two are happily living together.
“My life is a testimony that getting HIV is not a death sentence. You can lead a happy and fulfilling life, and also achieve your dreams if you follow the HIV prevention and treatment guidelines,” states Felix.
Since Felix accepted his HIV status, he has been both physically and emotionally stable. He lives with his young family in a nice house that is always full of laughter.
Felix also volunteers in a nearby health facility as a peer educator, encouraging every person he encounters to get tested.
“The only way to know for sure if you have HIV is to get tested. You can’t rely on symptoms to tell whether you have HIV. Knowing your HIV status gives you powerful information so you can take steps to keep yourself and your partner healthy,” he adds.
*Featured photo at the top: Felix (right) his wife (left) with their baby seated in their house in Nyamusi, Western Kenya ©World Vision Photo/Irene Sinoya