Jamaica Gleaner / Michelle Murray* has been living with HIV for more than 10 years and is defiant that the dreaded disease, which has already robbed her of an unborn child, will not take her to her grave.
The 44-year-old woman from St Catherine found out that she was HIV-positive after visiting her gynaecologist while pregnant with her fourth child.
Married, and with a husband looking forward to the birth of his child, the news of her status hit hard. Harder yet was the advice from her doctor, albeit misinformed, that she would have to abort her unborn child as it would inevitably be born with the disease.
“I found out I was HIV-positive on the Saturday, and on the Monday I was in line to do an abortion. He said the child would catch it and that it is going to die, and so on. I didn’t want that,” she said, now heavy with regret that she had listened to the doctor.
“I am convinced that it was my son I was going to get, but I think that because he (doctor) saw where he could get some money out of it, he advised me to do an abortion,” said Murray, noting that the abortion cost her and her husband $97,000 because the doctor said the equipment would have to be thrown out afterwards.
“If I knew what I know now, that wouldn’t have happened. My partner and I had no knowledge of HIV, nothing at all. That doctor did not tell us anything about HIV. So when he said that to us we said ‘yes’, because he is the doctor and he should know,” she said, noting that she was two months’ pregnant at the time of her abortion. Her husband tested negative for HIV.
“Anytime it comes on to World AIDS Day, I am emotional because I did that. To how I am empowered now I don’t even tell myself that I have HIV. If I knew what I know now that doctor couldn’t have told me anything,” continued the woman, who is now actively working with and counselling women living with HIV.
Murray explained that public discrimination is a real challenge and that neither her mother nor extended relative know that she is HIV-positive. It it took her some time to tell her daughters, ages 27, 25 and 17.
Her husband and children are very supportive of her and, therefore, she said, her status is nobody else’s business. For that reason she has lambasted some health-care facilities for how they go about protecting the status of persons living with the disease.
“When you go to a hospital or a treatment site you are sent to a specific area. Them need to cut out that. We don’t need a special clinic, special room or section for HIV. No. I think that needs to change,” she said.
Patrick Lalor, policy and advocacy officer for Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL), said much has been done to minimise such concerns, but that much more must be done in the discrimination fight.
“As part of our sensitisation of health-care workers and lobbying we have managed to get some changes in some things,” said Lalor, noting that in the past the medical dockets of persons living with HIV would carry specific marks and notations.
“So health-care providers would walk through the waiting area with the docket and people over time would know that specific mark and know that these are persons who are HIV-positive. That has been totally removed,” he said.
“Another concern is that persons with HIV will go on lists for doing certain operations; they might be number three on a list of 20 but they end up getting their operation being done at number 20. We have had cases where we have had to intervene,” he said, noting that health-care workers usually argue that equipment used on persons living with HIV will have to be disposed of.
Lalor, who was celebrating World AIDS Day last Friday, encouraged the public to get tested and take their medication if they find that they are HIV-positive. Taking the medication, however, is sometimes challenging for Mark Reid*, a HIV-positive man who has been having sex with men.
Reid has been living with HIV for a year, and said he has been been learning to manage his situation through JASL.
“When I started taking the medication I had a lot of bad feelings, dreams and so forth. You sometimes have hallucinations. But I am learning to cope with the help of the Jamaica AIDS Support,” he said.