AT the age of 11 she was raped by a man who believed that virgins could cure the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Today, she is married with two children and undetectable.

But the journey to that status was not easy for this Westmoreland woman, who asked not to be identified by the Jamaica Observer, out of fear of discrimination.

The 29-year-old woman said that she didn’t learn about her status until she became pregnant at the age of 15.

She wasn’t shocked to hear that her result had returned positive for the feared disease; neither did she believe that she had been sentenced to death.

“I got it after I was sexually assaulted when I was very young. The individual was looking for a cure and since I was a virgin and in the community he chose me. I was 11 at the time,” she recalled in a chilling interview with the Sunday Observer on Thursday.

“I did not cry at that particular moment though — I did after. I wasn’t frightened when they told me I was positive. I wasn’t shocked. People knew of his [perpetrator’s] status. I read a lot. I know it was a virus that I could live with while on treatment. I knew that I would determine how long I lived and so when they told me I started reading. I wanted to know what to expect and what I should do,” she added.

She said after several doctor’s visits and consultations she was able to acquire the medication needed to help in her fight against the disease.

She recalled that the drug was unkind to her as she quickly developed side effects that included vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea, and an eating disorder.

“It was really horrible. I could not manage. It was so harsh on me. This resulted in the baby being born underweight, because I wasn’t eating. My pregnancy was hard. It was a struggle. But I pushed on because I had the will to live and the will for my baby to live and have a normal virus-free life, which she is. I didn’t pass on the virus to her,” she shared.

Following the delivery of her daughter, the woman said she was enrolled at the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation and from there was placed at Hampton High School in St Elizabeth.

She said upon graduating from boarding school she began working and at the same time joined support groups.

She would also continue her visits to the health centre as often as required by her doctor, for medication and check-ups.

“I’ve never missed a clinic date. From I know myself I’ve never missed an appointment. Being so adherent as a young person living with HIV, I got referred to the Jamaica Network of Seropositives (JN+). I went to a series of workshops and began to get training so that I could become a community facilitator. This is an individual that provides support for persons living with HIV,” she said, adding that she later moved on to work at an HIV treatment site in the western end of the island.

While working there she told the Sunday Observer that she began a relationship and became pregnant again though she said the virus was not transmitted to her child or then partner.

“I have two HIV-negative children and I did not pass it on to my partner. From the moment I found out about me being HIV positive I just got on my medications and have been suppressed. I have always been suppressed. I’m a long-term suppressor,” she shared, noting that, that relationship eventually ended.

The United State’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) explained that the development of antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV has turned what was once an almost always fatal infection into a manageable chronic condition. It said daily antiretroviral therapy can reduce the amount of HIV in the blood to levels that are undetectable with standard tests. Staying on treatment is crucial to keeping the virus suppressed.

“So my status is lower than detectable right now. I was able to do this through meds and self-confidence. I told myself that anything is possible and where there is a will there is a way. So I knew that getting on the medication would provide me with the opportunity to get a second chance at a normal life or the life I was robbed of. I also got support from my mother and my brothers and the father of my [second] child,” said the woman.

“So I knew that once I was suppressed I would be able to date safely and would not pass on the virus to anyone. So whenever I would enter a relationship it would just be that person and I would feed the person with information surrounding the virus and my status. It was also not just about being on medication but having a healthy lifestyle. I don’t practise certain things like smoking, drinking, you know, and risky behaviours. So if I’m in a relationship it’s just one person. I practise safe sex and most of the time is a condom,” she added.

She told the Sunday Observer that for the past 11 years she has had the same partner, and he became her husband three years ago.

She explained that at the beginning of the relationship she did not disclose her status to her spouse though the two always used protection.

“I realised after a while talking to him that he was not educated on HIV and how transmission worked. One day I asked him, ‘What do you think about persons living with HIV?’ His response was very horrible and discriminative. He said, ‘Man, people like dem deh a animal dem. A dead people dem deh weh still a walk.’ That was his response.

“So, I sat down and I thought long and hard, because he did not know at the time, about telling him. I wanted to disclose but I wanted to know his level of knowledge. So while with him I was constantly going to training and getting information and feeding it to him. The day that I disclosed to him I went and did an HIV test and I presented it [result] to him and we had a long talk.

“At that time I asked him, ‘What do we do from here?’ We had been in a relationship for over five years at the time. His response was that he is now educated about HIV with all the information that I had fed him since working in the field, and it doesn’t make any sense we get separated. He said this because I never put him at any risk. He went and got his test done and was wondering how come he didn’t have the virus. He didn’t realise that you couldn’t get it from touching or those other things,” she said of her now 50-year-old husband.

The two tied the knot a few months after the disclosure.

NIAID has indicated that there is effectively no risk of sexual transmission of HIV when the partner living with HIV has achieved an undetectable viral load and then maintained it for at least six months. It said most people living with HIV who start taking antiretroviral therapy daily, as prescribed, achieve an undetectable viral load within one to six months after beginning treatment.

A person’s viral load is considered “durably undetectable” when all viral load test results are undetectable for at least six months after their first undetectable test result. This means that most people will need to be on treatment for seven to 12 months to have a durably undetectable viral load.

NIAID said that it is essential to take every pill every day to maintain durably undetectable status.

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