Looking at me now, would you believe that in 2007 I was bedridden. I weighed 43 kilograms and my CD4 count was 131. Back then, I thought this is it, the end. I gave away my possessions to anyone who came to visit. I would not be needing those where I was going. I had lost all hope.
However, I was lucky my parents did not give up on me. They helped me to enrol in a treatment programme at Epworth Clinic, where I reacted well to the medication and started getting better. I also joined a support group that helped me accept my HIV positive status and taught me how to live positively. The support I received proved invaluable when my husband died. He had denied his status for too long and by the time he wanted to start treatment it was too late: his body could not cope.
Looking for a good fit
By August 2008, I was well enough to look for work. I came across a Securico recruitment poster at the local shopping centre. One of the benefits offered by the company was HIV and AIDS awareness. I thought this company does not discriminate; maybe I can fit in there. I applied and got the job.
Supportive Work Environment
Almost immediately I faced a challenge that required me to choose between quitting my job or disclosing my status to the company.
I had chosen to work the nightshift so I could continue attending my support group meetings and clinic visits during the day. Unfortunately, I had also been prescribed medication that caused drowsiness and the Roving Supervisor caught me asleep at my post. Understandably, he was not happy and questioned my suitability for the job. I made the decision to tell him my story.
This marked a turning point for me at the company. I was reassigned to a more flexible post where I thrived. In 2010, I was awarded “Best Performer Employee” and promoted to a supervisory post in 2011.
My disclosure opened the way for many people at work to reveal their health conditions to their supervisors. Not just HIV but other conditions like blood pressure and diabetes. They could see that the company was true to its word – they would not lose their jobs.
Workplace Wellness Champion
As a Supervisor, I incorporate HIV awareness in the Safety Health Environment and Quality talks. I speak to at least 60 people every day during the morning and evening parades. I am not embarrassed about my status I remember when I thought I was dying and I am grateful to be here, sharing my experiences.
Many employees feel free to disclose their status to me and I counsel them on how to live positively. I helped them organise their work so that they perform at their optimum. Just because you are HIV positive does not mean that you cannot live a productive life and thrive.
I have seen many people who were visibly sick when they were recruited, get better because of the HIV and wellness programme at the company. One of the highlights of the programme was in 2015 when we launched our HIV and AIDS policy. I was so happy that non-discrimination was enshrined in the company “law” and further emboldened to talk more about HIV.
In my community those who remember the woman who could barely walk to the clinic, admire what they see now, a confident working woman! And there are many who want to follow in my treatment footsteps.
When I got remarried in 2015 at the age of 47, we had a lot of people attend the ceremony. In fact, it was such a big celebration that many people though that it was my younger sister getting married! It also raised many questions in the community; did my husband know my status, how was I able to work or lead such an extraordinary life even though I was HIV positive. It was an amazing opportunity for me to give a testimony about positive living and address some of the stigma and discrimination that is rampant in the rural areas.
Securico has really empowered us women to take control of our lives, to work and support our families. In August, it will be nine years since I have been at the company. During that time, I have built a house for my mother, bought livestock and I am in the process of building a retirement home. I now weigh 64 kilograms and my CD4 count, at the last check-up in March, was 974. I am managing my HIV positive status through adherence to my treatment programme, a balanced diet, exercise and a positive attitude.
My advice for other HIV positive women: aim high at work, always look your best, always use protection, and don’t hide your status from you partner. If he loves you he will accept you as you are, if not, let him go. Taking ARV’s is for life – it’s not something that you can hide.
*Securico was supported through the Sandvik Supply Chain Programme to enhance their workplace HIV and Wellness Programme and to develop and launch their workplace policy.