Thursday November 30 2017

I would escape from school to get my ARVs

Ismail Harerimana has been living with HIV for

Ismail Harerimana has been living with HIV for 24 years and is using his status to encourage youth to fight the virus. courtesy photo 

By Beatrice Nakibuuka

About nine years ago, Ismail Harerimana discovered he was HIV positive. Although he has made great strides in living positively, he is still angry with his parents for passing on the virus. This anger has bred fear of starting a family in Harerimana because he says he is afraid of passing the virus to another person.
But his status has always been his most guarded secret. In fact his classmates only learnt about it recently through his Facebook post.

“Until the Facebook post, all my classmates and friends believed I was taking medication for my eyes,” he says.
Harerimana was born 24 years ago in Bukimbiri Sub-country, Kisoro District. His father succumbed to Aids a few years after He had heard rumours in the neighbourhood that he was HIV positive. Harerimana refuted the claims because he had never seen his father take any medication or talk to him about the sort.

Finding out
Because Harerimana was not delivered from a health facility, he is the only one who is HIV positive among his siblings.
“Initially, I would be sickly all the time and my parents would take me to hospital, I get treatment and return home or school. However, while in Senior Two in 2008 my eye got a bad infection. I went to hospital for treatment and the doctor asked me to take an HIV test. I was not given the results but the doctor asked me to return with my father to the hospital the next day. That is when the doctor broke the news that I was HIV positive,” the 24-year-old recalls.

Harerimana was given ARVs but told it was treatment for the eyes probably because he was young. Two months later, he was retested and also a CD4 count which revealed he had only 10 was taken.
“The truth was difficult for me to take in. Life became very difficult for me since then. I did not disclose to my friends at school but I would take my medicine every 7am and when they asked why I was taking medicine, I told them it was for my eyes and they believed,” he recounts.

He adds that not even his head teacher knew he was HIV positive. This made getting permission to refill his ARVs difficult causing Harerimana to escape often and get punished.
His academics were not spared. Because he had lost hope, he started performing poorly.
“I thought I was going to die soon and that I was going to miss my friends. During preps, instead of revising, I would be thinking about what I would tell God and how I was going to miss my friends,” Harerimana says.

At every end of the term, he would bid his classmates farewell saying he would not return the next term.
“I used to ask my friends to come for my burial in case they heard I was dead. I would tell them that in my family, we had misfortunes and would perhaps die in motor accidents.”
Despite all this, he completed his secondary education and got a job as a receptionist because his is unable to raise university fees.

No family dreams
While in high school, Harerimana never thought about getting into relationships because he feared spreading the virus to other people. In 2015 however, a girl fell for him.
“She said she loves me but I disclosed my status to her which she could not believe so I went with her to pick my ARVs,” Harerimana says.
Although the girl tested negative, she did not break up with him but keeps encouraging him to take his medication and remain strong.

Encouraging others
But Harerimana has since stopped his pity party and has started using his status to encourage others to live positively. In May, he started a group in Kabale Town to bring all young positives together to fight Aids. Kabale Young Positives (KYP) group comprises 30 HIV positive people.

“I lead my group by visiting, supporting and counselling some of the positive youth who are not taking their ARVs well. As part of World Aids Day commemorations, we plan to move around churches, markets, cinema halls teaching people about Aids. I also use my Facebook page, WhatsApp, Instagram and Twitter to talk about fighting HIV,” he says.