The story of Agness Banda who wants to meet President Edgar Lungu for help.
THE HIV/AIDS stigma is real and no one knows this better than a Lusaka-based teacher, Agness Banda, 48 who was divorced because she was HIV positive and forced to repay her husband for all the money he had spent on her treatment.
Agness, who teaches at Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe School, is a living testimony of positive living and how one can embrace misfortune and turn it into a blessing to others.
This is Agnes’s story in her own words.
I am Agness Banda and I am a primary school teacher
I am a divorcee who was kicked out of marriage just a year after l tested HIV positive in 2007
THE SUN: Is that the reason why you were divorced.
AGNESS: Yes, the man said he didn’t want to continue with me because he thought I was dying, I tested positive when I was sick so he thought that I was going die.
His reasons were that he wanted to build a house and his fears were that if he builds the house while together with me, my relatives would grab the house, Imagine!
THE SUN: Did your husband take the HIV test also? Does he know his status?
AGNESS: I do not know l cannot speak for him.
THE SUN: I am just wondering that he divorced you without knowing his status
AGNESS: According to him he was claiming to be OK and after that I do not know what happened.
THE SUN: So he has never known of a couple where one is positive and the other one is negative or he didn’t just care?
AGNESS: He did not care.
THE SUN: Tell us your age.
AGNESS: 48 I will be turning 49 this year 2019 next year l will be celebrating my golden jubilee, that is the genesis of this new life I call it new life because everything had to change.
THE SUN: At that moment when you were tested positive, how did you feel?
AGNESS: l thought that was the end of my life. You can imagine I would spend sleepless nights crying asking questions to which I would not get answers, asking God why.
I had even asked for forgiveness and l was even judging what about this person what about that person that person you see their ways but I have never heard them being positive but that was wrong anyway I asked for forgiveness and I know God has forgiven me.
That time it was really hard and that time I even had a plot in Meanwood. I had to sell it because I thought I would die any time.
That was 2007, I sold the plot thinking I was dying so that I could just eat the money
THE SUN: That is why the Bible says your plans are not God’s plans.
AGNESS: Yes and that one is really true, very much true. I tested HIV positive in 2007 February then in March I was put on treatment and as if that was no bad enough, in April 2008 this man decided to divorce me.
THE SUN: The following year?
AGNESS: Yes and this divorce was so bitter, so painful because you know what this man did was to make me pay whatever he used for when I was sick
THE SUN: No, why?
AGNESS: And he was claiming a lot of money which l didn’t have
THE SUN: Claiming from you?
AGNESS: From me, yes when I was just about to recover he was talking about his money, I was forced to go and get a loan from the bank
THE SUN: How much?
AGNESS : K3, 000, 000 then it was a lot of money
THE SUN: It is a lot of money even now, its about K30,000 now
AGNESS: I gave him that K3,000 000 and just after giving him, he said this money you have given me do not expect to spend in this home. At that time we were the four of us, him, myself his niece and my nephew.
THE SUN: You did not have children
AGNESS: No, so I was given full responsibility of the home to pay rent and buy food
THE SUN: Was he working?
AGNESS: He was doing business which I empowered him to start.
THE SUN: So you were doing everything from rent to buying food for home?
AGNESS: Yes, everything was on me and at that time I had not come to terms with the status. I tell you I almost lost it. I was moving just like a spirit.
THE SUN: Like a Zombie?
AGNESS: Yes, like a Zombie at that time l would fall down my mind was kind of disturbed because I was HIV positive I was divorced.
By the help of my mother, I thank God for that woman. She was already old in her 70s and this time is 84, she was already old but she could find that motherly care for an elderly child to encourage me to adhere to medication. She told me that people are living longer because of this medicine.
You need to take the medicine and do not for get to pray she encouraged me to pray that even when she went back she would call me in the morning when she wakes up and ask me, “have you prayed”, “ yes mum” when going to bed do not forget to pray. Sometimes I used to forget and I would lie to her that yes I have when it was not true. But as time went by it became normal routine for me to pray.
And that was 2008. I was alone with my nephew and by 2009 thank God for those prayers because I know my mother was praying and some people that I knew were also praying. In 2009 I accepted my status. I was free at last.
THE SUN: Which church were you going to?
AGNESS:That time I was going ku GO Center and even disclosed to the public and I freed myself.
THE SUN: What sense did you get when you told everybody that you were HIV positive?
AGNESS: I felt so peaceful, so free I defeated stigma and was back to my normal me. You know what I used to do before disclosure that time I used take my drugs twice a day. I would take them in the morning at 07:00 hours and 19:00 hours in the evening.
And at 07:00 hours in the morning I would find myself in the stuff briefing at work and I used to carry water in a bottle so that I can take medication and you know my workmates started talking. They started teasing me “imwe, nga aya amenshi yafumine kwi? Lyonse kwenda nebotolo lyamenshi kwati muli bwanga.
So I said ah I thought it should now tell these people that l take medication. Why should they be talking about me? They became a hindrance. I stopped carrying water I started swallowing dry drugs without water.
THE SUN: Oh because you were afraid?
AGNESS: Afraid of being noticed that that I was taking medicine, people would know that I am HIV positive. It was another fast lane to the grave and also stigma is real especially if you do not control it.
And stigma it is in two ways there is stigma from the public and yourself.
THE SUN: Stigma from yourself, how?
AGNESS:Taking drugs without water, I hear people laughing maybe they are laughing at me, I hear people talking and I think they are taking about me, that is self-stigma.
It is really sad but fortunately because of prayers and after disclosing my status I was free. I started taking my drugs in the open. I do not fear anything and even if people talk about me because of that disclosure, opening my mouth telling the public about my status. It does not pain me.
Because I know that they are taking me in because I told them unlike when you hide you do not want people to know and when they start talking about you it pain. It can even kill you and some people even know the truth from the public.
Like in my case I thank God I am a happy woman, very free. I am liberated for sure and from that time I decided to say God has done this wonderful thing for me, He has given me a second chance. What do I do for Him? I am not a preacher I do not know the Bible I cannot preach.
I may have a heart to give but I do not have what to give, what is it that I can do to my God? I prayed and God showed me two things. He told me to say you can teach people the same things you went through.
And that is when I started my activism. I am an activist. I started contacting radio stations.
I was even invited to MTN Zambia to go and talk to the staff, Zambian Breweries. I have been to churches recently three Saturdays ago to be specific I was at an SDA church in Jack Compound
For me it’s ministry I know that I am working for God and mankind so that is how I started. I have been taking my drugs properly I have not defaulted this time I have even suppressed the viral load the virus is undetectable, meaning that I cannot transmit and I cannot even suffer from optimistic infections.
THE SUN: But you still take the medicine?
AGNESS: Yes immediately I stop the condition will come back, it does not mean that I am HIV negative now no, I am still HIV positive, it is just that the viruses they have been paralyzed according to what they say they find hiding places in the body because they are too weak to work such is the message that I want to take to people that when you are found HIV Positive do not despair, do not kill yourself and the cardinal message is that people should go and test. Testing is the starting point when you test and you are found HIV positive you know what to do just like I have done.
Though I made a mistake, I did not test then because at that time we did not have people to encourage us, people like me who is encouraging others. Now people have the information and we are here to encourage everybody to say knowing your status is not killing yourself that is when you will have life.
Because some people say it is better not to know but you never know that maybe by the time you will know it will be too late the drugs won’t work for you. I was lucky that the drugs worked for me and they are still working for me.
I would want to encourage people to go for testing and even when they test HIV positive they should just go for what the medical practitioner tells them to do.
I can mention some of things that people are supposed to do like avoiding too much alcohol those who drink, avoiding junk foods people need to eat a lot of vegetables and fruits, take clean water, have enough rest and those who are still sexually active practice protected sex or better still, abstain. Because sex in itself there is a danger, in that there are people who would say ok I am HIV positive I will not die alone I want to plant I want many to follow me what they do not realize is that in so doing they are threatening their own lives.
Because what happens is were I am HIV positive in so doing I can still contract some more viruses which is called reinfection and the viruses they are in two types, A and B.
The another one is very vicious than the first one, for example I have the type which is not vicious then I go and contract a virus that is every vicious then that is a sure way to the grave.
Then there is also on the issue of drugs I might go and have sex with someone who is taking a different drug maybe which is stronger than the drug that I am taking so when those viruses from that person come into my blood system they will cause drug resistance. Doctors will say this drug has failed, lets try another drug from another person and even that one will resist.
So how many drugs will have I dropped two of them if I continue the same thing will happen because the drugs are in three lines.
The first line, second line, and the third line, the first drugs has more than these others, in line two they are there but a bit less than the first line and when we get to the third and final line, it is shameful and those drugs there is only one line and those drugs are very expensive.
I have seen people who travel from very far way places to come and access those drugs from UTH because that hospital is the only place you can access those drugs on the third line.
So you can imagine you are coming from Chama to Lusaka and get the drugs here sometimes when you are supposed to get the drugs here you do not have the money what happens you will default again and if you default sometimes they just give you Panado. Sometimes they will just give you the same medicine and they will say there is nothing we can do.
So people have to be careful on that one. So we have talked about sex but most importantly HIV is that one we must fear God for. Not fearing as in running away from God but respecting God. How do I respect God I respect God first of all by praying and doing good for myself and others.
To be continued