Young Zimbabwean spreads the word on living positively

Life for Kelvin Makura has been a tale of two challenges to which he has adapted in a positive way: living with both HIV and a physical disability resulting from stunted growth.

Life for Kelvin Makura has been a tale of two challenges to which he has adapted in a positive way: living with both HIV and a physical disability resulting from stunted growth.

Makura, who turns 26 this Christmas, comes from Zimbabwe and is the only male child in a family of four. He lost his father earlier this year to HIV. “I’m HIV positive. I was born with it and I have been surviving for the last 26 years and I hope to survive many more years,” he said.

The young Zimbabwean is currently representing the Link Up project at the African Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights Symposium in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka. The Link Up project was set up to improve the sexual and reproductive rights of more than a million young people most affected by HIV.

Confronting his mother

Makura first found out about his HIV status when he confronted his mother about his physical disability, when he was in Grade 6. “I started to notice that there was a difference between me and other kids. So when I asked her why people were always looking at me, she explained to me that I had a different condition from other children,” he said.

“I also asked her about some drugs [antiretrovirals] I was taking and she explained it to me in a very polite way. I was not very mature, but I understood because she said I had to take my drugs at a particular time and never to miss that time, no matter what I was doing,” said Makura.

According to Makura, some people in Zimbabwe wonder how he could be living with HIV when he is disabled. “People don’t really understand when I tell them that I’m HIV positive. They always ask, ‘How come?’ and others say it is a punishment. I try to open up and explain that it is not by choice but just a condition that came about due to my parents’ lack of knowledge at the time,” he said.

Sexual relationships

Makura believes it is important to be open about his status and always use protection. “When I first wanted to have sex, I had to explain to the person that we needed to have protected sex. My mother has always insisted to me that it is a crime to have sex with someone without using protection, when I know that I’m HIV positive,” he added.

He has been seeing a woman for the last two years who is not living with HIV. “Before my current girlfriend I had three others, but after explaining about my HIV status to them I noticed some misgivings.”

However, Makura’s current girlfriend has accepted his status and attends HIV meetings with him. “She also understands that we can have a fulfilling sexual life and have children,” he said.

For couples who want to have a baby and where just one partner is living with HIV, the positive partner can take antiretroviral treatment for their own health as well as to protect their partner, as it lowers the levels of HIV virus in their bodies to minimal levels, making it harder for them to pass on the virus.

Treatment is also taken by the HIV-negative partner, called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which also helps to minimise the risk of them contracting HIV.

Youths and HIV

Makura said he was happy to have contributed to a youth ‘Call to Action’, which was read out at the symposium. “I hope they [policy makers] will listen to what we have to say as youths,” he said.

Along with his Zimbabwean counterparts, Makura has embarked on a campaign to reduce new infections. “Whenever we meet, we discuss ways of enjoying sex without risking new or re-infections. We are supposed to be enjoying sex, but we should do it safely, not to get infected with sexually transmitted infections and other diseases,” he said. “We always say: ‘Let us keep it safe.’”

Makura, who also plays wheelchair basketball, advises young people who are living with HIV to “keep it real” and enjoy life to the full. “When you are in a relationship, take that relationship very seriously and be honest. Adhere to treatment, enjoy life but don’t take risks, because that is when you make mistakes.

“Never listen to other people’s discrimination and never feel you should be punished because of your status. For those who are HIV negative, enjoy life and keep safe always. We are all one,” he said.

Read about how young people are needed to tackle HIV in Zambia

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