HIV saved my life
November 30, 2021
“The treatment of HIV has significantly advanced over the past three decades, but society’s perceptions of people living with the virus still needs improvement.” Sameshni Moodley is no stranger to HIV/Aids awareness campaigns in the country. Thirteen years ago she decided to live transparently about her HIV-positive status, sharing everything from her CD4 counts and being infected with Covid-19, to a fitness routine that boosted both her physical, as well as, mental health.
“I was infected with HIV during a stage in my life where I was reckless with alcohol and drugs and my partner was not honest with me. I’m upfront about it because it’s the story of many South African women and especially my community where HIV is still treated as a taboo topic.”
Ms. Moodley laid bare the facts of her life with HIV, sharing the dreadful downs, but also the positive lifestyle changes that took place in her decade-long journey with the virus.
“I took the decision to be open about my status because there was no-one I could relate to when I found out about my diagnoses. I felt very isolated and alone in my journey. There were simply no support groups in my community; no-one to help me navigate through life as an HIV-positive person. In my community, if you’re HIV-positive, you suffer in silence. And I was not going to allow that to happen to the next patient. So, I went public in probably the biggest way possible with a Facebook page called Living to Inspire.”
Her social media profiles attracted all sorts of attention and Ms. Moodley says that behind the noise of her detractors, were patients who confided their status in her before they did anyone else. “Being HIV-positive carries tremendous mental anguish. You’ve got to work on forgiving the person who infected you. Mostly, you have to work constantly on forgiving yourself, course-correcting your own destructive habits and redirecting your willpower to reach for life instead of despair.”
Her passion for advocating for ARV (anti-retroviral) treatment comes from her personal experience with the medication. “When I first started with ARVs, sure… I had a rough time as my body adjusted to the medication, but by the third month, my CD4 count was markedly better and my viral load had drastically reduced. ARVs work and they work even better when you have support to encourage you to persevere.”
To put it into perspective, before treatment, Ms. Moodley’s viral load was sitting at approximately 500,000 copies and her CD4 count was abysmally low. “Today, my viral load is undetectable and my CD4 count hovers around the 1500 mark, sometimes higher, which denotes a healthy immune system.”
It might be worth noting that Aids is the result of final stage HIV, where the viral load is so high and a CD4 count is so low that even a simple cold can lead to a fatality. Not only has Ms. Moodley changed her fate, but in 2021 she was contracted Covid-19 and survived. The infection did leave me with anxiety and there were tearful days, but thankfully, I had prepared my body for 13 years to be healthier. I did that by taking my ARVs and changing my lifestyle, which gave me that extra boost to fight off Corona virus.”
She says even though her viral load is undetectable today, she still maintains her treatment regimen, fitness routine and continues to take safety precautions.
“After I stabilised on ARVs, I started working out. Without making it a goal, I dropped 20kgs and tackled my addiction disease and I got myself into therapy. There are still days when I need to check in with my therapist to work through a trigger, but, I am diligent with protecting my mental health.
Ms. Moodley says she tells every HIV-positive patient three facts to help give them hope:
- You can have a fulfilling relationship even if you’re HIV-positive. A caring partner works with you and is patient. Medical and surgical intervention will allow you to have a family. Your dreams are not over.
- ARVs work. Keep to a routine, take your meds at the allotted time and you’ll see results. I’m proof of that. My CD4 and viral load were dangerously low when I was first tested positive. Look at me today.
- Reach for life. That means, love on yourself the most. Forgive yourself for what you didn’t know back then and appreciate yourself for what you do know now. Bad days will come, but so will the good days. Both situations are impermanent.
The future for Ms. Moodley looks brighter than ever. She says as more corporates invite her to share her experience on working fearlessly with HIV-positive colleagues, society begins to heal itself from the stereotypes and misconceptions regarding this virus.
“It’s a great start and one that I am pleased to say is gaining momentum.”