“I’m HIV positive and this is what I’m doing to protect myself from Covid-19”

Zikhona Dingile. (Photo: Zikhona Dingile Twitter)
Zikhona Dingile. (Photo: Zikhona Dingile Twitter)

Zikhona Dingile (28) of Cape Town has been living with HIV for five years after being infected by her ex-boyfriend when she was 23 years old. After being in denial about her status and constantly defaulting on her treatment for two years, Zikhona got a wake-up call and decided to take control of her life.

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Now Zikhona, who works with various NGOs and other initiatives that encourage people to collect their HIV treatment and tracks those who default on their treatment, is healthy and living proudly knowing her status. As the number of people infected with Coved-19 in South Africa continues to increase, she shares some of her fears.

This is her story.

“I didn’t really have any fears when the coronavirus outbreak first hit the world, but once it hit South Africa I became very afraid as people who are already infected (with HIV) may be at a higher risk due to our weak immune systems. But then again, anyone can get this disease. And I believe that if an HIV-positive person keeps taking their treatment and their CD4 count is strong then the virus will be treatable for them.

“I have been keeping consistent with my treatment and as far as fear goes, I have the same fears as everyone else regarding the coronavirus. As a person who uses public transport to travel to work, I feel that the government has failed us because they shouldn’t have allowed the people who were coming from Italy to come back and not be immediately quarantined. Now, we live in constant panic because when we’re in taxis we must pass money around and be in contact with a lot of people. Also, staying at home won’t really solve much because some people still need to go to work and run errands.

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“I was at Clicks recently and noticed there were no hand sanitisers on the shelves as people had bought all of them. So how does one even protect themselves in such a situation? There’s really not much that we can do.

“I’ve also been taking precautionary measures such as washing my hands but I’ve also decided to stay at home because I have no other choice. I’ll go out here and there to do a few things but I won’t interact with people, especially since I know that my immune system is quite fragile. This means that I should try harder to protect myself from contracting the virus. Even if it’s something mild like a headache, I get sick quickly because of my immune system so I have to try not to be in contact with people who have the coronavirus.

I’m also thinking of going home to stay in the Eastern Cape for the time being since I heard in the news recently that someone from the area I stay in in Cape Town has contracted the virus. The area is an informal settlement and I’m worried the virus will spread quickly.”

These are the five things people living with HIV and TB should know amidst the Covid-19 outbreak, Dr NT Moukangwe tells DRUM.

1.       Suppression – “HIV-positive people should take their treatment consistently so that their CD4 count can be up. Should they not take their treatment, then it means that their immune systems will be weaker and they wouldn’t be able to fight off the coronavirus should they contract it. When HIV positive people take their treatment, the coronavirus will affect them the same way as it would affect an HIV-negative person.”

2.       There’s not enough data yet – “There is not enough data globally from the World Health Organization and stakeholders about what would happen to people living with HIV should they get Covid-19. There’s a lot of confidentiality where no one has said that they’re HIV-positive and that they have the coronavirus. Therefore, we do not have data that we’ll be able to translate and determine what would happen.”

3.       TB VS HIV – “TB is a microbacteria and HIV is a viral infection, same as the coronavirus. Bacteria are usually treated with medication such as antibiotics, however, the viral infection is self-limited. This means your body can limit it inside itself or, alternatively, [you] take medication to suppress it.”

4.       Quarantine –“Most people living with TB or HIV get their treatment from crowded places and this exposes them to getting the coronavirus. It’s tricky because you need to get the [HIV] treatment, yet you may contract the virus. People need to take extra precautions or, alternatively, call a toll-free number if their medication can be delivered to them.”

5.       Every person should know their HIV status – “There are many South Africans who do not know their status which means that some of them may be HIV-positive and have a low CD4 count. This means that they will experience the catastrophe of the coronavirus because they have not been diagnosed [with HIV] and have a weak immune system. It would be wise for everyone to know their status so they can know where they stand should they contract Covid-19”

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