PHYLLIS Mavushe (PM) recently celebrated her 25th birthday. As a young woman full of life and intelligence, she exudes positive vibes to life despite having been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS at 16.
NewsDay Weekender health correspondent Catherine Murombedzi (CM) recently caught up with the woman on her experiences in living with HIV as well as fighting stigma. Below are the excerpts.
CM: Are females comfortable telling their ages?
PM: As long as they are below the age of 25, they are open. Above that, society expects them to be married. So, age is no longer an open secret, especially when not married.
CM: Growing up, when did you get to know your status?
PM: I was 16 years when I was first diagnosed HIV positive. It took me long to come to full acceptance. I became open with my status at the age of 23.
CM: You were orphaned at an early age. Are you free to share that journey?
PM: My father passed on in 2001 on my sixth birthday and January 28 became my celebration and sorrowful day. Have you ever had that day when happiness turns sorrow? You are supposed to celebrate, but you lost a loved one too. I call it a Birth-Sorrow Day. I always thought of him, especially when I excelled in my studies. I also wished he was around when we struggled to get fees for my young sister and my university fees.
I was half orphaned; my mother was always there for me. I was lucky to have her. I didn’t feel that void much because my mother was and is still alive. She puts effort into taking care of all our needs. I am happy to be able to assist now that I am working. The absence of my father is still being felt though.
CM: How did you arrive at living openly with HIV?
PM: After acceptance, I worked on being at peace with my status. I am now healed and empowered. I got over the pain and hurt. HIV is a manageable condition; nothing is special about it. As people, we have been hiding the condition too long. Being HIV was associated with being promiscuous. The moral lenses judged people. Stigma saw some people recoiling into their shells and suffering alone. It is time people accept us as we are. I am not shy to talk about HIV, be it at home, work, or with young people. I am open about my status across the age divide. I have come to a point where my friends and I even joke about it.
CM: Who is Phyllis Mavushe?
PM: I spent most of my teen years in a boarding school at Regina Mundi, which is from 2008 to 2013. I did not go straight to university in 2014. My mother could not afford to send me to university. When I was gainfully employed in 2018, I then enrolled to study psychology. My uncle also supported me financially to be able to manage the fees and upkeep. I am grateful.
CM: You volunteer in the HIV sector. Can you tell us more about your work with young people?
PM: I can look back because someone told me that you are not alone. I too feel your shoe pinch. Community work is exactly what it says, working for your community. If everyone found time to give back to their community, this place would be a better world. Be it HIV positive or negative, we ought to uplift our communities.
CM: You are a presenter on a TV programme on HIV. Can you give us an insight into that?
PM: That was ground-breaking. It was a different platform, and it was my first time as a TV presenter. I loved and enjoyed it. It was also an emotional rollercoaster for me. Some of the episodes and cast stories brought back memories of the challenges I faced growing up with HIV. Some people faced worse scenarios than me. Theirs were the toughest challenges if there were comparisons. I admired how they came out brave and are still pushing through life’s gates.
CM: You post on social media, breaking barriers for a woman of your age. How do you manage to do that?
PM: The moment I disclose some may not understand my status, and they leave, some pretend to understand, and yet they just ghost me. I talk to young people about the risks of cross infections. You know people have different strains. One should also use protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It is beautiful that science makes treatment a prevention option too. I believe in science, but people should not be reckless.
CM: How do young people take your messages?
PM: They often come to my inbox. It literally gets flooded as they ask how they can be safe. I think they are really getting the message in a funny way. Messages should not always be hard-hitting. Like October results, I am talking to those who get reckless on New Year’s Eve. Parents can allow young people to go out or party indoors. Young people are young, and they may have alcohol, smoke, and indulge in unprotected sex. I remind them that nine months later, its October results, one gives birth to a baby.
CM: Are you furthering your education?
PM: Yes, I am taking a master’s degree in clinical psychology.
CM: Why that programme?
I grew up to be passionate about supporting the mental health of people and how best to help people cope in different circumstances.
CM: Where do you see yourself in a decade?
PM: That is not something I often think about. I feel that these small steps in the community, fighting stigma and discrimination, and helping young people born HIV+ to acceptance is enough. These small steps can make a huge impact in someone’s life. Young people with disabilities are often left out in many programs. Talking about health issues with them is important.
CM: What do you say on undetected is untransmittable, U=U and positive living?
PM: We celebrate the scientific evidence on U=U, it makes it possible to live healthy and normal lives. It takes positive living to a near normal life span. But that must not be a ticket for unprotected sex. This U=U can be interpreted wrongly. There is a need to preach more about the risks of contracting other STIs.
CM: Have you ever dated someone living with HIV?
PM: Yes, I have.
CM:What was your experience
PM: I only dated someone with a similar HIV status like me on the rationale of my HIV+ status, too. It didn’t work out. I was afraid to leave the relationship, thinking no one would live and accept me until I realised, I was being unfair to myself. HIV will never again determine me. It is for this reason that I am 100% open. This should not define who I am.
CM: Why is it that young people are afraid of getting pregnant and ignore STIs and HIV?
PM: Generally, they are young. They love to experiment and can be delusional to think love is sex. They enjoy the thrill and pleasure (to exclude the ones that engage in risk to make ends meet). They feel babies are a huge responsibility, unlike STIs, where they can get treated. So, they are afraid of pregnancy, which will be a lifetime pointer. They are not ready to be mothers.
CM: Your parting shot to readers?
PM: The global message on ending HIV/AIDS by 2030 is focusing on zero new HIV infections. Yet, this Southern African region is still recording new infections daily. The statement means HIV/AIDS become a generalised condition just like any disease. Look at funding, it’s now going to climate change, innovation. The funds to HIV are dwindling. It’s time we reduced the infection. People spreading the virus are those who do not know their status. Those already on treatment, taking their treatment correctly as prescribed are virally suppressed and will not pass the HIV virus, they are no longer infectious, U=U.