Second chances don’t come around very often. That is why when they do, we ought to grab them with both hands. Precious Mwewa Kaniki knows what it means to have a second chance at life. This is her story:
My name is Precious Mwewa Kaniki, a 29-year-old mother of one. I am from Zambia and have been HIV-positive for 15 years now. I’m a social worker by profession and a community healthcare worker.
I tested positive when I was just 14 years old. Honestly, it came as a huge shock to me, and I quickly went into denial mode, which caused me to withdraw from all my family and friends. I was very lonely. There was no one to talk to.
I turned to males for companionship and comfort, which came with its own series of rejection because every time I disclosed my status, I would be rejected. For seven years, I took my medication when I felt like it or when I was sick, never seriously.
Death was at the [forefront] of my mind. I felt there was no hope for me at all. Being me was very difficult to be honest.
In 2014, I got very sick. In a month, I lost so much weight and went down to 37kgs, which worried the people around me. The truth is that I thought I was going to die for not taking my medication, but in that year, my prayer changed from wanting to die to declaring that I wanted to live. I wanted to chase my dreams and live my life positively.
For the first time, I prayed for my recovery. At the clinic, the health worker assured me that as long as I did my part in getting better, everything was going to be okay.
I restarted my treatment and took it diligently. As I got better, I volunteered at the clinic, and that’s when I met a 19-year-old girl who had just found out that she was positive. She was crying so hard. It broke my heart because for the first time in my life, I really saw myself and how heartbroken I must have been. That’s when I made the decision to become her support system.
The truth is that the narrative around diagnosis and acceptance has been made to look so easy, but in fact it differs with every individual. There are a lot of young people who find it hard to comprehend and accept their results, and most choose to withdraw from society and suffer in silence to the detriment of their health, both mental and physical. They are shrouded with a lot of questions of whether they will ever get married, let alone have children. My job now is to be a voice of encouragement to everyone faced with such uncertainties.
I got married last year and am a mother to a 6-month-old baby girl. Having her has really changed my life and has given it more meaning.
By publicly coming out with my status, I am asked a lot about how a positive woman can give birth to a negative child. My advice is that one should know that everything depends on the mother. First of all, one must be adherent to treatment. Yes, I know that the first trimester is very difficult, but one should try to adhere to ensure that their viral load is low. Three viral load tests must be undertaken in the first and second trimester as well as before birth. As soon as the child is born, they are put on prophylactic treatment, which is basically antiretrovirals (ART). The treatment is given according to the baby’s weight.
Administering the treatment is an emotional experience because the babies tend to refuse to take it sometimes, and so it is better to take precaution during pregnancy to try and avoid your child having to deal with medication every day of their life.
After birth, I chose to breastfeed exclusively for three months since I had to go back to work. Now she is on formula and is due for her PCR test. These tests are done at birth, six weeks and six months, and so far she is negative. I am positive that my baby will be negative due to the necessary precautions I have taken.
To those who are positive, be courageous and confident when disclosing your status to your partner. How you relay the information will determine how the other person will accept you or not. It is your responsibility to take care of yourself. Join a support group and find out how others are coping and how they are moving on with life and achieving their dreams. You will realize that you are not alone.