Wednesday, 30 November 2016

All The Times I Died - A Piece for World AIDS Day 2016 by Mary Ero


In 2009, just when Mary Ero was arriving at what many would consider the peak of her career in TV Production and Marketing Communications, she was diagnosed with HIV. What followed were a series of unfortunate events. These eventually drove her to re-examine the social paradigms that led to her infection and that leads to the infection of other young women.
Thanks to her training in kanthari, a school for social visionaries in India, Mary is now channelling her 15 years’ experience into issues related to women’s rights as they connect to HIV/ AIDS. Her latest venture is The LOLO Project, a social enterprise that provides young women living with HIV with skills and jobs in areas of the media usually dominated by men.



The first time I was 13, maybe 14. It had been on a holiday visit to an uncle. My grand uncle to be precise; my grandmother’s brother. A priest. Barely had we arrived at his house and settled in before he began his sexual advances towards me. Over the course of two weeks he would sexually abuse me repeatedly at night, punishing me with insults and food deprivation in the morning if I resisted, and rewarding me with treats if I complied. By the time I had arrived home I was dead; in the way a talking, moving breathing person can die. I was dead for 15 years where I barely talked to anyone about it but engaged in promiscuous behavior and exhibited intense rage because of it. 15 years.

The other time that I distinctly felt like I had died was when I received the email from MTV terminating my appointment. Interestingly enough, a few months before that, when I was 10 weeks pregnant, I had been informed that I was HIV positive. But I did not die then; I was even comforting my doctor.

(Now that was a funny story.

A week or so blood had been drawn for the routine HIV test given to pregnant women. The tests at the clinic I attended were inconclusive so I had to pay for them to take the blood sample to the almighty LUTH where a more comprehensive test would be carried out. A few days later I received a phone call from him; he wanted me to come to his office. When I arrived there he had his head in his hands and on his desk was an open file- presumably a case note – with the words HIV POSITIVE written in bold, large red letters. Font size 80. (Because small letters may have diminished the effect of the virus in my bloodstream.) The doctor had his head in his hands and was looking down as I walked in. I said hello took a seat. Immediately he began “ermm…, you see…, the things is…”. “It’s okay”, I said patting his hand, “I have already seen it.” “Thank God” he said with apparent relief as he took out a handkerchief and mopped his forehead. Probably because I had been anticipating this result during the few days wait, and because I realized that between my doctor and I one person had to be strong, I was not particularly moved by the declaration of my status. I did not die then. I died a few months later.)

When I was 6 months pregnant, in a funny twist of events, I was pushed out of my job in MTV. For a long time, this was a very painful issue to me because of how it happened, because of when it happened. (It is still painful to regurgitate.) It was December and time for the perfunctory renewal/renegotiation of my employment contract. To be honest, I expected nothing other than a positive outcome, especially as about 2 months before, the Vice President, my boss, in a rare show of emotion, and seeing how hard I had worked on our event even though I was pregnant and sick, had pulled me aside and said “you are so hardworking. I will take care of you” ….

At that time everyone had temporary contracts in MTV Nigeria. My then supervisor in South Africa asked me by email if I wanted to renew my contract so he could renegotiate with HR for me. I replied in the affirmative. I thought it a bit odd that he did not ask what the terms were, but I dismissed it thinking he probably already knew. The next day he returned via email to ask if a working week of 5 days (Monday to Friday) and a salary of $2k was a deal breaker. I replied immediately saying yes, as those were exactly the terms I had previously. He then responded immediately saying “it was nice working with you”. I remember reeling from my computer, stunned and confused. What just happened I wondered? I tried to contact him but he was just somewhat apologetic saying he tried his best. Then I knew that it was a collective decision. What I didn’t understand was why. What more could I have done to show my dedication to that organisation? And that haunted me for many years.

The third time I remember dying was when, at 7 and a half months pregnant, I became homeless. In a very strange turn of events, my best friend who I was staying with at that time, decided she had had enough of me. She began by keeping malice with me for more than 2 weeks. Eventually, when I finally made her speak about the issue she said I was becoming too comfortable in her house and she really needed me to leave. Her main complaint was a disagreement we had two weeks earlier which I had considered minor. She then said she dreaded the possibility of my having my baby in her house (all her words, not mine). She was a single mum who knew what the implications of having a child were so in many ways she was afraid of the economic and adjustment consequences. I found myself scrambling, because I had two weeks, to find another place to stay. A former colleague took me into her house just in the nick of time. She was so kind and patient with me even taking care of my feeding in addition. However, something was not right from the beginning. I could tell that some people in the house did not want me there; particularly her mother. My suspicions were confirmed when one night, about a month later- and three weeks before my delivery- her sometimes live-in partner, evicted me. God bless her, she fought tooth and nail to stop what seemed like a collusion of some members of her family and the erstwhile partner. Finally, she decided that it would be unwise to have a pregnant woman caught up in the crossfire and she made plans to relocate me. I must commend this dear friend of mine, at this point because despite all her efforts to assist me she never once asked me the question others were asking ‘why do you not just go to your parents in Benin”. Of course, I stayed in Lagos because in addition to being taken care of in pregnancy, I needed to have access to the HIV treatment I was receiving from my doctor but she did not know that. No one did. Ironically, I found out in the 8th month of my pregnancy that this doctor was taking advantage of my situation and charging the equivalent of 100 dollars a month, for drugs that were contraindicated in pregnancy!

Anyway, two days, or so, after the spat between my friend and her family, I was moved into the home of a mutual former colleague. Initially, it seemed great but over the month or so I stayed there, the emotional trauma I endured- a long story for another post- especially after giving birth to my child, made me scurry back to my parents’ in Benin immediately after. I stayed there for 2 years….

There are so many more intricacies before and after this extract from my life story but there is a reason I am sharing this bit – and it is not to partake in the tell-all/clapback wonder that 2016 has been (although I think that has been a very good thing). The theme for the World AIDS Day 2016 is Access Equity Rights Now. For me this is so significant because of the things I know now.

Access: There have been enormous advances made in the treatment and care of HIV and AIDS in the last 2 decades, worldwide. Even between when I was diagnosed, and now. However, all the progress in the world means nothing if the people who need it are unable to access it. And in Nigeria, it is getting increasingly difficult for people to access treatment. The reasons for this difficulty border on financial impropriety on the part of government, economic situation of the PLWHAs and – surprise- gender. Funding in cash and kind for the treatment and care of HIV in Nigeria comes from international bodies. Unfortunately, these sources are dwindling. Last year, Global Fund pulled out of funding Nigeria citing massive impropriety. The result is that the cost was pushed on the patients. However, it is poor patients who attend the public clinics, as the affluent ones seem to have some sort of means of getting treatment. About 2 years ago, when I still used to attend the public health centre, I saw how the number of patients reduced dramatically when people had to pay 5000 naira to have their blood drawn. This is a necessary measure for PLWHAs especially in determining what the next step of treatment will be. So, imagine how many people are walking around with drug-resistant HIV just because they jumped treatment. I don’t dare imagine how much that number has increased even now. Again, gender determines access, unfortunately. In my experience, women are less likely to seek treatment than men, because of shame, because of fear, because of judgement. There is more to the issue of gender but that should probably go under the word ‘rights’.

(PS. Access also has a flip side. PLWHAs need to come out of hiding. People need to get tested. Just yesterday, there was a quote from the WHO estimating that about 14 million people globally are unaware that they are HIV positive. I think the number is even more. Unless there is an absolute need, such as pregnancy or chronic illness, people in Nigeria do not get tested. That is a real danger. Other people need to shut up and stop shaming PLWHAs; we have a sickness, we did not murder anyone. And finally, the silence around sex and sexuality needs to be broken for any progress – medical or otherwise - to have effect.)

Rights: When we speak of women’s rights and gender equality it may sound like some far-fetched, unnecessary idea. But in practice gender equality may mean the difference between life and death for a lot of people, especially women. Consider that 64% of all new infections in Nigeria, among young people, are of girls/ women ages 15-24 (according to UNAIDS). Where is this coming from? It is coming from transactional sex; from women being unable to mitigate their sexual risk by exercising control over their sexual and reproductive health. How many women, married or single can actually negotiate sex with their partners? Let us be honest. Or ask him to use a condom? How many people agree that a man can rape his wife? This is why I think all these open conversations – whether in form of books, social media discussions, secret forums or whatever- are necessary. We need to stop shrinking; stop keeping quiet, stop handing over your future in sex, because you are a woman (as they like to say).

Equity: Feeding off of rights is the fact that equity can be legislated. And such legislation can positively affect several generations of women. I think that we as Nigerian women need to do more to ensure that our aspirations are incorporated into legislation. We cannot continue to be governed by ancient rules that tell us what age we must marry, make us request for permission from an absentee father to give birth to our own child, or deny us or our children, rights if we are unmarried.

Now: Because there is no time as the present.

(PLWHA = People Living With HIV and AIDS)

To find out more about Mary & The LOLO Project, and get involved please visit www.theloloproject.org. You can also read more of her life with HIV on www.asitwasnotinthebeginning.wordpress.com and women’s issue on www.thelongerfword.wordpress.com.






12 comments:

  1. There has never been a more optimistic time in the world of AIDS research. New breakthroughs over the last several years have brought the scientific community a new understanding of the challenges that must be overcome to get to a cure. And there is growing confidence that, with the right investments, these challenges can be overcome.while this may sound discouraging and people may not be-live that HIV have a cure,while i was once an HIV positive and i never believe that i was going to be cured i live with this disease for more than 3 years now, i have been to so many places for help including hospitals wasted times and money hoping that i was going to get cure but non was able, until God use someone to cure me from this disease (HIV VIRUS) true the help of a man called DR.ATUKEMA with his herbal root herbs medicine. I want to thank Dr ATUKEMA for helping me get cure of my HIV DISEASES, for like years Now I have been suffering from HIV but one day as I was searching through the Internet I met a post about a woman called Silver Lisa, who was cured by Dr ATUKEMA so I decided to give it a try to see if he could save my life Luckily for me was cured by him. I cannot stop thanking him for what he has done for me if you are into similar problem you can also contact him on dr.atukema@gmail.com call him on +2347064693371/whats-app him. he is a great herbalist that treats and cure all manner of diseases like Herpes, HIV, Cancer, Syphilis, Hepatitis B, all types of Cancer, Gonorrhea, and solves life's problems that you might have .contact him today and he will help you solved your problem his emial is dr.atukema@gmail.com +2347064693371

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks to dr.ezomo for his good work I never believe that HIV has cure, I
      was HIV positive over 3 year now before I came across a comment about how
      dr.ezomo cure HIV and herpes disease but when I saw it i have it in mind
      that he can’t cure HIV I just decided to give it a try I contact him that
      night luckily to me he replied me, but I don’t believe him I thought it was
      a scam but I still hold on to see the work of Dr ezomo if he is saying the
      truth he ask for some details about me i gave him all he needed and I
      waited to see his reply to my problem after all, he told me to go for check
      up and I went for HIV test I cant believe I was negative,am so happy and
      grateful to God for using Dr ezomo to cure me, that is the reason why i
      decided to write this wonderful testimony of our i was cured, i recommend
      Dr ezomo to you all around the world,contact him on his Email dr.ezomorootandherbals@gmail.com or you can also reach him through thanks
      dr.ezomo for helping me at this young age if you need help contact,
      He can also cure so many sickness
      {1}HIV And AIDS
      {2}Diabetes
      {3}Epilepsy
      {4} Blood Cancer
      {5} HPV
      {7} ALS
      {8} Hepatitis
      {9}Love Spell

      Delete
    2. attention you all,i don't just know the reason why some people is finding it difficult to believe that there is a cure for HIV, i have been HIV+ since last three years with my boyfriend but today i am happy that i am HIV_ with herbal medicine of Dr.Emmanuel the great healer,i was browsing the Internet searching for help when i came across a testimony shared by someone on how Dr.Emmanuel cure his HIV i was so much in need of getting his treatment but after all Dr.Emmanuel brought a smile to my face with his herbal medicine. i am so much happy today that we have someone like this great healer out there, so my people out there kindly contact this great healer on his email address: Traditionalherbalhealingcentre@gmail.com please sir keep your good work cause there are people out there who is in need of your healing medicine.once more contact him now: traditionalherbalhealingcentre@gmail.com or WhatsApp/call him at +2348140033827 once you get inturch with him tell him that i Tracy inform you about is ambition work.good lucky....

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  3. Am Angela, thanks to Dr Osaze who cured me of HIV. I contacted HIV on my struggle to get a good education for my self. The symptoms were already showing in me, due to my incessant failing health. Until a friend saw Dr osaze's recommendation online, on how he has helped so many people, and we decided to reach him. And he applied his herbal medicine on me, and I bounce back to my previous heath status. In case you want to reach him for a similar issue you can call him at +2347089275769 or email him at drosaze39@gmail.com.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Happiness is all i see,be serious about my testimony,who will believe that herbs can cure seven years of HIV in my body, i never believe that this will work i have spend a lot when getting drugs from the hospital to keep me healthy, what i was waiting for is death because i was broke, one day i was going though on line,i come across a testimonies of someone,how explain that Four doctors has administer there herb on her,there was no cure,it was when she met another doctor called dr Ebhota,and she explain to him all she pass true before,dr Ebhota told her not to worry about any thing,after taking his herb,she we have testimony to share of his good work,when i sow the testimonies i decided to give a try to him,that was how i contacted him,and there was no respond on time,i wait for his reply,after two days he reply to me,and ask me how it started,and i explain to him,unknowingly to me that will be the end of the HIV disease in my body, he prepare the herbal medicine for me, and give me instruction on how to take it, at the end of the three weeks, he told me to go to the hospital for a check up, and i went, surprisingly after the test the doctor confirm me negative, i thought it was a joke, i went to another hospital was also negative, then i took my friend who was also HIV positive to the Dr Ebhota, after the treatment she was also confirm negative . He also have the herb to cure Cancer and Herpes virus please i want every one with this virus to be free, that is why am dropping his email address and his contact,for any one how need his help to cure his or her virus,thank you for saving my life, and I promise I will always testify of you dr Ebhota, for your good work.contact him through his email,drebhota123456@gmail.com or contact him,+2347086564868

    ReplyDelete
  5. Am Angela, thanks to Dr Osaze who cured me of HIV. I contacted HIV on my struggle to get a good education for my self. The symptoms were already showing in me, due to my incessant failing health. Until a friend saw Dr osaze's recommendation online, on how he has helped so many people, and we decided to reach him. And he applied his herbal medicine on me, and I bounce back to my previous heath status. In case you want to reach him for a similar issue you can call him at +2347089275769 or email him at drosaze39@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks to dr.ezomo for his good work I never believe that HIV has cure, I
    was HIV positive over 3 year now before I came across a comment about how
    dr.ezomo cure HIV and herpes disease but when I saw it i have it in mind
    that he can’t cure HIV I just decided to give it a try I contact him that
    night luckily to me he replied me, but I don’t believe him I thought it was
    a scam but I still hold on to see the work of Dr ezomo if he is saying the
    truth he ask for some details about me i gave him all he needed and I
    waited to see his reply to my problem after all, he told me to go for check
    up and I went for HIV test I cant believe I was negative,am so happy and
    grateful to God for using Dr ezomo to cure me, that is the reason why i
    decided to write this wonderful testimony of our i was cured, i recommend
    Dr ezomo to you all around the world,contact him on his Email dr.ezomorootandherbals@gmail.com or you can also reach him through thanks
    dr.ezomo for helping me at this young age if you need help contact,
    He can also cure so many sickness
    {1}HIV And AIDS
    {2}Diabetes
    {3}Epilepsy
    {4} Blood Cancer
    {5} HPV
    {7} ALS
    {8} Hepatitis
    {9}Love Spell

    ReplyDelete
  7. Dr Bello herbal cure is 100% Guarantee percent sure to cure your (HEPATITIS B AND ANY OTHER DISEASE) ,He is only person that i can boldly say he can cure any types of Disease.my wife was having HEPATITIS B for more than 5 year when i met Dr Bello online how and how he has cured so many people and how greatly he has helped many individuals online,so i contacted him and explained my wife situation to him and behold my wife was cure with his herbal medicine and now we are living happily, so to anyone issue on herpes challenges i advised that you contact him for help and he will send you the medication and you will be fine and OK : adeyemibello1990@gmail. com he can also cure any disease such as HIV/AIDS HEPATITIS B,DIABETICS,CANCER,HERPES E.T.C HE is the great herbalist man called Dr.Bello i must say a big thanks for curing my wife disease, i owe you in return. Thanks and be blessed sir.his Mobile number: 09035594773 or what’sapp him on 08107996445

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thandi from Tanzania

    All thanks to Dr Barasa who helped me to cure my
    HIV/AID, please help me to give thanks to him he is a great man who God
    send from heaven to save people's life,
    i sheared tears when the doctor came out and told me that
    there was no trace of the virus in me again because i never believed the possibility of it
    working for me even though i played along but today i am well again
    please thank this man for me,he is a wonderful man,
    his email is barasatemple@gmail.com he is the antidote to HIV virus.

    ReplyDelete
  9. attention you all,i don't just know the reason why some people is finding it difficult to believe that there is a cure for HIV, i have been HIV+ since last three years with my boyfriend but today i am happy that i am HIV_ with herbal medicine of Dr.Emmanuel the great healer,i was browsing the Internet searching for help when i came across a testimony shared by someone on how Dr.Emmanuel cure his HIV i was so much in need of getting his treatment but after all Dr.Emmanuel brought a smile to my face with his herbal medicine. i am so much happy today that we have someone like this great healer out there, so my people out there kindly contact this great healer on his email address: Traditionalherbalhealingcentre@gmail.com please sir keep your good work cause there are people out there who is in need of your healing medicine.once more contact him now: traditionalherbalhealingcentre@gmail.com or WhatsApp/call him at +2348140033827 once you get inturch with him tell him that i Tracy inform you about is ambition work.good lucky....

    ReplyDelete
  10. My name is Comfort from San Jose i contacted HIV 4years ago i lived in
    pain with the knowledge that i wasn't going to ever be well again i
    contacted so many herbal doctors on this issue and wasted a large sum of
    money but my condition never got better i was determined to get my life
    back so one day i saw Mrs Felicia peters post on how Dr Barasa from
    Africa saved her and her hubby from HIV VIRUS with this same herbs that i
    have bought from so many doctors i was skeptical i spoke with her she
    told me that her husband was an immigration officer working with the
    Nigeria government so we really talked and she told me that Dr Barasa herbs was really potent
    that herself and her hubby are now free so i contacted Dr Barasa on his
    email address barasatemple@gmail.com
    and we spoke on the issue i told him all that i went through and he told
    me not to worry that everything will be fine again so he told me how
    much i was to provide for him to prepare and send the herbs to me and we both reached a compromise and i sent him the money after Dr Barasa has finished preparing the
    herbal medicine, he asked me to send him my residential address again so
    that he would be sure that he wasn't sending my herbs to a wrong address
    and i did, so Dr Barasa sent the herbal medicine to me via DHL COURIER
    SERVICE and i received the herbal medicine three days later and i had to
    follow the instructions he gave to me on how i will apply it. 2weeks later
    i went to hospital for test and according to the test done by the Medical
    doctor DR PHIL there was no traces of the virus in me again so i was
    happy but not too happy i went to another DR PATEL here in San Jose and
    it was also negative then i couldn't hold back in tears of joy.Dr Barasa
    gave me a second chance to happiness again you could be the next lucky
    man or woman give him a try talk to him at barasatemple@gmail.com
    and i wish you well.GOD IS MERCIFUL

    ReplyDelete