20 years of HIV and still going strong

Grace Raphuti
Grace Raphuti

JWANENG- When the first Motswana, David Ngele tested positive to HIV in 1986, stigma and discrimination were on overdrive as many people did not want to be associated with the infected.

The government had a mountain to climb in  educating the public and treating the infected. Exactly 10 years later, Grace Raphuti of Khakhea found out she had contracted the virus and had to deal with stigma around Jwaneng where she lived. The 45-year-old  mother of one was a backing vocalist for one of the local bands around Jwaneng in the late 90’s and early 2000s. What prompted her to test was that she always felt tired and weak.

The results confirmed her HIV positive status with a CD4  count of 70. Raphuti had to buy anti-retroviral drugs from Jwaneng Mine hospital for six months to save her life as there by then there were endless queues at public hospitals. “It was tough. I had to buy four bottles of tablets at P450 each and that was too expensive for me”, she explained. Raphuti said she owed her life to Ngwaketse West support group which was her pillar of strength in time of need.

She said at times when she was sick, she would return to her home village in Khakhea where stigma was so rife, but thanks to long-time activist, Ngele, the first person to go public about his status. He went to address her family and the public eventually accepted her as their own. 

Ngele spread the gospel of prevention and acceptance by the public.Raphuti said in 2003 she had to tell her only son that she was living with the virus. It was not easy. However with the help of her family, she was able to go public with her status during AIDS day commemoration in 2008. Having gone public with her status did not necessarily mean an end to her sex life though, she revealed.  She  shared her status with  her partner and emphasises condom use to avoid the re-infection. She said she is now the preacher of HIV/AIDS gospel and she shares the national vision of an HIV free generation.

She emphasised  the importance of  a good  diet and healthy lifestyle, adding that her CD4 count is now at 1,129 and the viral load is low. Though she confessed that she used to be beautiful with a show-stopping figure, Raphuti did not want to blame anyone for his misfortune.“I don’t want to know where I got the virus because that will not solve anything. I’d rather delete any bad moments and embrace my status in order to live longer This year I will be celebrating 20 years of living with HIV and I foresee a great future.  I will be there in 2050 ”, she  said with ardent hope. 

Though she has dedicated most of her life to  combating stigma against HIV as well as being a counsellor, Raphuti’s source of income has little to do with HIV activism. Rather, she earns a living as an ordinary litter picker for the Jwaneng District Council. She is the unsung heroine and the invisible HIV AIDS ambassador. Raphuti  wishes to continue spreading the message through health talks and  to be a living example that AIDS does exist, but it can be prevented and managed. She said given the opportunity, she  would go around the country to preach prevention so that no one will be trapped in the same pit that she fell in.

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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