When AIDS becomes a death sentence
On Monday I was visiting a home in Swaziland. In the room was a woman (probably in her sixties) with a three-year old baby on her back (in typical African style) and a 23 year old girl lying in bed. The baby was the girl’s child. The girl is very sick. As we were talking, she started coughing, trying to get rid of the phlegm slowly but surely filling up her lungs. I suspected what the diagnosis would be, but nonetheless asked her what the doctor had said. She was told that she had TB. But in Africa the majority of people who have TB, get it because their immune system had been broken down due to the HIV infection. There I was, realising that there was a 100% chance that this young girl lying in the bed was HIV-positive and that, probably sooner than later, she would die. What could I do?
She told me that a few weeks before she had given birth to a still-born baby. When asked what the reason was that the baby had died, she told us that she had coughed too much! Medically this doesn’t make sense to me, but this isn’t the point. She should have been a happy, healthy mother, taking care of her new-born baby, but things had worked out differently in her life.
One of our caregivers who had accompanied me (or rather, I had accompanied her) then started telling this girl about the possibility to be tested for HIV at a VCT (Voluntary Counselling and Testing) facility. When she had finished, I asked her how much she knew about AIDS, but evidently she didn’t know much, so, in a nutshell, I tried to explain to her what this disease did to a person’s body. But then I didn’t really have the courage to go on, because I realised that, what I needed to say, was in fact a death sentence. Trying to be as diplomatic as possible, I told her that I did not want to say that she definitely was HIV-positive, but that I would recommend that she follow the advice of the caregiver and have herself tested. The young face looked me in the eyes and responded: “It is obvious that I have this disease.”
What are the options? That she go to be tested, possibly receive ARVs (anti-retrovirals) if they are available and perhaps live a while, even a few years, longer. Or that she remains in bed, as I have seen so many others do, to become one more AIDS statistic.
I have a son who is 23 years old – the same age as this young girl, in the prime of his life. This is how I believe it should be. This young girl, through choices made by herself and/or by other people, will never experience life in this way.
As I walked away from her home, I thought to myself that God had given to us the potential to create life. Somewhere along the road human beings had transformed this possibility to create life into something which brings death.