An estimated seven million South Africans are living with HIV. One of them, Quintin Jonck, believes he contracted HIV in 1999. He went through a period where he slept with countless women (many of them prostitutes) without knowing their background or status.
“I don't know when I was infected exactly. I had to have a blood test for a life insurance policy when I bought a house in 2001 and that’s when I found out I was HIV positive.”
Receiving the diagnosis
“I was completely shocked,” Quintin says about the day he received his diagnosis, “but in the back of my mind I sort of knew. I became a follower of Jesus Christ and committed my life to Him three years before. I believed if I became a Christian nothing bad would ever happen to me again. And then this...
“I immediately started to bargain with God. I felt so ashamed about my situation. I felt angry at God and especially myself. I hated myself. I knew suicide was a sin but it did cross my mind. My life was falling apart and I had no control.
“Then I met Kristin and I fell in love for the first time in three years of abstaining. I wanted to do it right. I was doing well at work, I was healthy, I was in love, but kabooooom! I was HIV positive.
Learning to cope
“Luckily I have a very supportive family. My church family and friends also rushed in to support me. Although they were shocked, they stood by me. I don't think I would have made it if it was not for them.
“The doctor who broke the news to me was uncompassionate and told me I would have two to five years to live.
“Fortunately knowledge is power so we spent as much time as we could getting as much information about the virus as possible. I tried to find the best doctor in the field who told me I probably wouldn’t need medication yet.”
“My wife is wonderful – I tried to break it off with her early on in our relationship because I believed we had no future. She wanted to hear nothing about that and two years later we got married.
“Five years after we got married we had our first child. He was conceived using a procedure called sperm washing and insemination. When we had the next two children, I was on medication to take my viral load down to zero and we took a chance just at the right time. Now we have three children – two boys and a girl [all HIV negative].
“We are very happy and my wife is still HIV negative after almost 14 years of marriage. Although we only found out about my status after we met, we have always used condoms.
“It’s great having her as a nurse. She does all my 'bloods', books my doctor appointments and takes great care of me when I’m ill.
“She stood by me from the beginning, which has strengthened our marriage.”
Facing the stigma
“There is certainly a lot of stigma surrounding my status. After I give a talk, people will come up to me and tell me how brave I am. I am not brave – the only way is to talk about it.
“Shame is the biggest thing that prevents people from reaching their potential. If I did not have people believing in me, I would have no friends. I also think because I was able to prove myself by God’s grace people respect me – otherwise I would have been an outcast.
“Being HIV positive and having a normal life goes hand in hand with living life to the fullest. I need to stay healthy. I need to stay positive. Having people around you to talk to when things are tough and also to keep you accountable about your life.
“With medication my viral load* has been undetectable (less than 40) for the past five years. When you are HIV positive, you need to keep your CD4** as high. Personally I believe it’s easier to live with HIV these days than being diabetic.
“Life is impossible and hard without God, family and friends around you. And disappointments, challenges and tragedies that do not kill you, will build your character, make you strong and keep you humble. Stick with the people you love, even if they sometimes hurt or disappoint you.
“Get in touch with groups, churches, counsellors as soon as possible. Knowledge is power. Life is hard enough. Do not try to do it alone.”
Managing your status
If you have HIV, you need to keep your immune system as healthy as possible – your viral load needs to remain low and your CD4 count as high as possible. Here’s what you can do:
• Follow a healthy lifestyle with exercise and a balanced diet.
• Manage your stress.
• Take supplements and immune-boosters.
• Avoid recreational drugs, alcohol abuse and smoking.
• Make routine visits to your doctor or clinic – it’s important to get early treatment for opportunistic infections.
• Follow your doctor’s directions when on antiretroviral therapy.
*Viral load refers to the number of viruses in the blood – it can be counted by doing a blood test and is indicated in copies per ml. The viral load usually indicates how sick an HIV-infected person is and can help measure their response to treatment.
**The CD4 count is measured with a blood test and gives an indication of how healthy the immune system is, indicated in cells per mm3. The normal number of CD4 cells will vary from person to person but generally a healthy count is between 800 and 1 500.