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Of brutal marriage and the deadly virus

  • A heart-breaking tale of a police sergeant who survived abusive hubby and HIV comma   

MAJIRATA LATELA

BOTHA-BOTHE – At the height of an agonising abuse by her husband in 2013, ’Maseabi Makoa was diagnosed with severe depression that had eroded her blood cells to a lowest CD4 count of 20.

The normal CD4 count for healthy persons ranges between 500 and 1600 cells, and for HIV positive patients, scientific researches show that if their CD4 count drops to 200 and below, they are at a critical stage of AIDS.

CD4 count is a test that measures how many white blood cells a person has in his or her blood.

CD4 cells, at times called T-cells, are a type of white blood cells that move throughout the body to find and destroy bacteria, viruses, and other invading germs.

Without them, the human immune system is unable to defend itself against toxic germs, a state which may lead to immediate death.

The scientific studies further indicate that a person is at the highest risk of death if the CD4 count drops to 100 and below.

But for a now 41-year old Lesotho Mounted Police Service Sergeant, Makoa is leading a healthy and happy life having survived the HIV odds and a brutal husband.

Sergeant Makoa tested HIV positive in 2014, shortly after the funeral of her vicious husband they had been together for eight years.

She says she only learned after his passing on that her husband was HIV positive and that she might have been infected with the virus from him.

“I only found out after his death that he was HIV positive and was taking ARVs,” Makoa tells the MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism during a recent visit to Botha-Bothe.

The husband, Makoa indicates, had not opened up to her about his HIV status until she found the Anti-Retro Viral Treatment tablets in their house.

She says problems in their marriage started in 2012 when suddenly the husband resigned from working in the South African mines and came back home.

“He was working in the mines in South Africa and he just resigned without a reason and came home, that is when life became a hell,” she says.

“After he resigned, it was obvious I was bread-winner in the family. But despite that, I was beaten and verbally abused by him to a point where I could not take it anymore,” she adds.

He would beat her to a point she would be heavily ill and hospitalised, she says, and times he told her she was ill because she was infected with HIV.

“I only realised after his death that indeed he knew he had infected me with the virus. At that time, I didn’t know what he meant. I also realised after his death that my husband must have resigned from the mines because he was HIV infected and now ill. But even under those circumstances, he decided not trust me enough to talk about it with me. I was supposed to be his wife in all odds,” she says.

The police sergeant says she had, on several occasions, asked the husband to for HIV and AIDS testing, “but he argued if I have tested, it meant he had also tested”.

Somewhere in 2013, Makoa was hospitalised and diagnosed with a severe depression “and was told that my CD4 count is only 20. I was ready to take my HIV treatment, but I was told that my CD4 count was low due to depression not because of my HIV status. I was afraid. I didn’t want to die. I am the only one left in my family as all my three siblings and parents have died”.

Thanks to the medication that Makoa was given, “it helped to increase my CD4 count to 500, and by that time I felt better”.

Makoa ended up separating with the husband who later fell ill and died in 2014. She now lives happily with her second husband, and they are both HIV positive.

“After his death, my health deteriorated. I started feeling ill again. I went to the doctor and did all the check-ups including blood tests and it appeared I was HIV positive. However, I was not given medication at that time as the doctor wanted to do more tests to confirm if I was ready to take medication,” she says.

At the time the first husband died, Makoa says she had already met with the current husband. She confined in him about her HIV status. “We decided to go together to test and we both tested positive,” she says.

She says the results did not shake their marriage as they walked the road together to get their medication and supported each other.

“If my (first) husband had opened up to me about his status, I would have supported him, while at the same time taking precautionary measures against infection,” she says.

In April 2016, Lesotho, which was the first at that time, launched a new programme to provide anti-retroviral treatment to all HIV positive people regardless of their CD4 count. The Test and Treat Programme in the country is led by AIDS Health Foundation and the Ministry of Health.

The programme was also one of the efforts of Lesotho to achieve 90-90-90 targets set by UNAIDS by 2020.

Through the programme, it is anticipated that by next year 90 percent of the country’s people living with HIV and AIDS should know their status; and 90 percent of the people living with HIV and AIDS should be on ARVs therapy; also, 90 percent of people receiving ARVs will have viral suppression.

In January this year, the government of Lesotho, the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and ICAP Lesotho announced the final results of the Lesotho Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (LePHIA) survey.

The report shows “remarkable strides” that the country is making towards control of the epidemic.

It shows an impressive 81 percent of the population has tested and now aware of their HIV status, and adds the annual HIV incidence (new infections per year) today stands at 1.1 percent.

The Health Minister Nkaku Kabi has said the report provides a breadth and depth of data “that will greatly inform our approach to controlling Lesotho’s HIV epidemic”.

Also funded by PEPFAR, LePHIA was conducted from November 2016 to May 2017 and included 16,000 people aged from zero to 59 years across 10,000 randomly selected households.

Meanwhile, through PEPFAR, the US government has pledged over one billion Maloti to support Lesotho’s efforts to reach HIV control by 2020.

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