These women are happy not because they no longer live with HIV but because they see concrete reason to be euphoric – the HIV in their blood stream have become successfully suppressed so much so that the virus in every one of them is now undetectable.
Medina Mohammed, Rabi Lawan and Zainab Idris are joyful and grateful for the treatment and care given to them since they were diagnosed with a disease that has brought so much pain to them – courtesy of the Institute of Human Virology, Nigeria (IHVN), which provides treatment, care and support for them with fund by US President Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But they are not the only ones who are overjoyed that their viral loads have been suppressed as a mark of proper adherence to HIV medication. Sha’awa Haruna and Sakina Ahmad in Bichi, Kano, are equally enthralled that with their present bill of health they hope to live long and hopefully not transmit the virus to their partners “as we were told by the doctors,” says Sha’awa.
Nigeria (IHVN) with funding from PEPFAR through CDC, tests revealed that she had both HIV and TB and she commenced treatment for TB and then for HIV. “For some time I could not walk because
Their story of achieving viral suppression is encouraging others. For example, Yahanasu Aliyu, who also lives in Kano, says she will soon join the group of people whose viral loads are now undetectable because it is going to be good news for her husband who is not living with the virus. She says that she is feeling very healthy as a result of the ARV drugs that she takes unfailingly and at the right time. But that “it is great news that this is happening to members of our support group who are having their viral loads being crushed. I cannot wait for my own time to come, so that with undetectable viral load I will not transmit the disease to my husband, who is HIV negative. I have five children who are also not HIV positive. I am even pregnant again, but with a suppressed viral load the risk that we have been taking will be extremely minimized,” says Yahanasu, who is weaning a baby that she is presently carrying on her back.
When Rabi, 53, divorcee and an adherence volunteer for the past eight years at the Waziri Shehu General Hospital in Kano was diagnosed with HIV, she was sapped by the sad disclosure and was shivering with fear and crying she was going to die. “However, I picked up after being counseled I was not going to die but live. I enrolled for treatment almost immediately. At that time, my CD4 count was dismally 110. That was in 2009. The last time I did a CD4 test the figure had gone up to 898.” Apart from the initial reaction to the drug which came in the form of vomiting that some people said “confirmed I was going to die and one day that I forgot to take my drugs which made me to behave as a mad person on the road, screaming and shouting that I forgot my drugs, I had no difficulty taking my medication and I have never forgotten to do so.” Rabi, who has three children who are HIV negative, lives healthy by “taking her HIV medications as counseled, sleeps under mosquito net, drinks clean water and avoids taking herbs.”
The varying experiences of Madina, a divorcee and Zainab, 36, who is married to a fellow in the same Support Group with her at the Waziri Shehu Gidado General Hospital in Kano, also show that they had no resistance to the drugs as result of proper adherence to medication. To achieve viral suppression, according to IHVN’s Adult ART Officer, Dr. Oladayo Popoola, it is expected that the client should have been taking antiretroviral drugs consistently and correctly as prescribed for 24 weeks and above with a resultant viral load of less than 1000 copies per milliliter. He said that when the viral load is undetectable, the value is less than 20 copies per milliliter. For Medina, Rabi, Zainab, Sha’awa and Sakina, this is also achieved by an organizational structure that empowered multidisciplinary teams at all levels of IHVN from site to working groups who shared the responsibility towards achieving this goal, he says.