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An unsung HIV/Aids hero spreads message of hope

BY JEFFREY MOYO
In 2001, when Reki Jimu was 30 years old, his wife died at the age of 27.

The now 51-year-old Jimu said the couple’s two sons died prematurely. Both were underweight and frail, although the couple had been previously blessed with a baby girl, Faith Jimu, who is now a 29-year-old mother of three.

Jimu was born in Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland Central Province in Mazowe Citrus Estate, with his rural home located in the province’s Mukumbura area in Chigawo village.

Two years after his wife, Tendai Goba, died following a very long illness, which he said eroded her weight, Jimu was tested for HIV and found to be positive.

“My wife Tendai died in 2001, succumbing to Aids, although then we had no proof she suffered from it. She had Kaposi’s sarcoma – a cancer associated with Aids,” Jimu told IPS.

His diagnosis did not dampen his zeal to live – although he encountered a lot of discouragement from relatives, friends and colleagues.

“When I started losing weight, people said I was being bewitched by my brother whom they claimed had goblins that were sucking out my blood,” Jimu said.

He said the back-biting started when his wife and two sons were still alive.

“Some naysayers were even blunt in their statements during the early days when my wife was sick, at the time our sons were alive.

“People said my sons were very thin because they had Aids. We would hear this and never say anything in return.

“But of course, our sons died prematurely because they were all underweight (but) before we knew they had HIV,” said Jimu.

But thank God, said Jimu, the couple’s daughter, who was born before the couple contracted HIV/Aids and has lived on without the disease and is now a parent.

Yet Jimu, even as his first wife kicked the bucket, has never given up on life.

Now residing in Chitungwiza, a town 25 kilometres southeast of Harare, the Zimbabwean capital, in 2003, soon after testing positive for HIV, Jimu immediately started taking antiretroviral treatment, and that has kept him going for almost two decades.

In fact, for close to two decades, 51-year-old Jimu has lived with HIV/Aids, sticking to his antiretroviral treatment without fail.

Thanks to his belief in ARV treatment, now Jimu looks like any other healthy person.

“Look, I’m looking good. Nobody can tell I’m HIV positive. Nobody can even tell I’m taking ARV drugs unless I tell them myself,” bragged Jimu.

He has soldiered on with life despite being HIV positive.

In 2007, Jimu became the founder, leader and pastor of the Christian Fellowship Network Trust, a support group that he said has become pivotal in supporting people living with HIV and Aids in Chitungwiza.

He has not stopped embracing life, and through the help of HIV/Aids support groups, Jimu said he married again a year after he had tested positive.

Francisca Thomson, his second wife of the same age as him, is also living with HIV.

“Francisca is my queen, very beautiful girl, I can tell you, and we are so happy together,” boasted Jimu.

Jimu said he, like any other average person, has become a beacon of hope to many living with HIV.

He became open about his HVI/Aids status at a time when the public loathed people like him and when HIV/Aids stigma was rife.

“I am one of those people who used to appear on national television on an HIV/Aids advert clip in which I was saying I didn’t cross the red traffic light… I am a pastor…  I am HIV positive, adverts of which were sponsored by Population Services International,” said Jimu

Now a known fighter against HIV/Aids in Zimbabwe, Jimu cannot hold back his gratitude for the Chitungwiza General Hospital here, which he said made him what he is today- an epic HIV/Aids peer educator.

Zimbabwe has about 1,4 million people living with HIV/Aids.

Living with HIV has not forced Jimu into a cocoon.

Instead, he said the condition has merely turned him into an ardent defender of many others.

“I’m now very active in offering routine counselling services and spiritual guidance to many who newly test positive for HIV and seeing me with the positive mindset I have. Many are adjusting quickly to their HIV-positive status and moving on with their lives,” said Jimu.

Yet, for Jimu, it has not been easy getting where he is now.

He said over the years, he has come face to face with stigma, saying many people around him were disgusted at merely seeing him sick.

Jimu said landlords quickly evicted him when they heard of his status.

“As a tenant at the many houses I have lived in, I would be quickly given notices to leave because people were afraid to live with me thinking I would just one day wake up dead in their homes or infect them with HIV.

“I would hear people gossiping about my sickness, some saying I was now a moving skeleton, some urging me to visit prophets for healing, some saying I must go back to the village and die there,” said Jimu.

Over the years, however, things have gotten better, with Jimu saying his relatives have begun to embrace him.

Yet, in the past, he had to contend with all the sneering and discrimination from both kith and kin.

Being loathed and discriminated against were the things I have encountered in church, work and many other places.

“At many gatherings we would attend with my late wife, we would be made to take back seats as people were ashamed of having us occupying the front seats, obviously ashamed of how we looked because of the signs of sickness on us,” recalled Jimu.

But that is now a thing of the past.

As more and more people living with HIV are beginning to find it easier to live with the disease, Jimu has a message for them.

“I urge people who are HIV positive to take their medication during prescribed times without defaulting even when they feel they are now healthy and fit,” he said.

And he also carries an almost similar message for those on the brink of marriage.

“I urge couples to get tested for HIV before engaging in sex. If one is found positive, they can be assisted by health experts to live healthy lives without infecting each other with the disease,” said Jimu. – IPS

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