17 Dec The Victory Story of HIV with the Walking Billboard Scrubs
2020, enter World Aids Day Activist for Africa Mr Ntimbwie Mpamba – as he sashays into the StruMovement offices in Edenvale . He greets me with a super warm hug of a person who exudes the brightest yellow sunshine. His warm character totally belies his frail figure, which is a complete contradiction to his herculean spirit of life and faith outlook. He says he was a dead man walking, but like the resurrection rose to life.
Thirty-seven year old Mpamba is the proverbial Bible-character David- with a slingshot who faced and conquered the giant Goliath – if Goliath was a metaphor for HIV/Aids. This HIV experience birthed the author in him, in an inspirational book called; Crushed but not DIstroyed (not a spelling error). It poignantly chronicles his life story with living positively with the disease, that if it meant to crush him, he has instead been propelled forward to fight. “HIV can only be described as an unwelcome guest, who is alive and very busy and then he invites other unwelcome guests, being other diseases. What kills us with the HIV is the not knowing we have it and thus not testing to get on treatment early.”
Mpamba’s story begins in Zambia, where he was born and raised. However unbeknownst to him he was born with the virus. He tells us, how this diagnosis was deliberately and intentionally kept from him by his immediate family until the ripe age of 30. With hindsight he says; “it was kept from me, but that saved my life.”
He recalls how he had to endure sickness, weakness, and says almost three quarters of his life was spent in and out of hospital. He remembers one of his lowest points as having to endure the excruciating pain of a massive infection which almost ate away his left eye and left him blind, but he says by the grace of God he made it through and today he eye can see. “The person who kept me solid and today I remain solid is my mother.”
My meeting with Mpamba is where statistics of the HIV story is somewhat encouraging, where lesser numbers of Aids related deaths are less. This is a good sign, given that the aim for 2020 was to reach the 90-90-90 goal. Meaning, having at least 90% of those infected by the HIV virus knowing their status and that 90% of those who know their status are accessing HIV treatment. And that 90% of those who tested were virally suppressed. The numbers today state that we are getting closer to the 90-90-90 target, in that 81% of all the people are on treatment. And 73% living with HIV are virally suppressed.
90-90-90 target and expands; “There is a fourth 90, that is still missing and that is of community. There is no accountability, HIV/Aids has become just about numbers and targets, just to supply you with a grant, the passion for HIV has expired.”
Ms Molebogeng Rapetswa, founder and director of StruMovement a social advocacy and enterprise company, who wears many hats in business – who created the “walking billboard scrub” in 2020, to advocate for HIV and other diseases, concurs with Mpamba’s concerns.
Rapetswa says that we know the numbers of HIV/Aids that now it’s about healing the deeper roots of HIV, which is still the endemic poverty, additionally the social challenges that all people have to navigate. The numbers supports Rapetswa’s view. The statistics say women are disproportionately affected by HIV standing at 62.67% as compared to 56% of men.
Mpamba has inspired many. Today he gives motivational talks to teenagers at the Helen Joseph Hospital. He gives talks to teenagers against a backdrop of rising numbers of HIV infections particularly among young women aged between the age of 15 to 24, where they are double than those of men. Mpamba attributes it to peer pressure.
“I see it as reckless living, issues of identity also come in, issues of fitting in and living a life of plastic and you forget you are glass. So you get loved for living a reckless life. It is imperative you know your status. But there is a fear to test, that is the hardest part, to test and to know that its one condom per round. However, there is a real challenge and that is because condoms are freely available people associate that with a “cheap” factor and do not use freely available condoms. ”
But Mpamba has beat the disease. Thirty seven years later, he lives strong Mpamba’s positive outlook on life is inspired by the 5 pillars he lives by; Being nutrition, mindset, medication, exercise and support.
“From the test of having the HIV, I got to have a testimony, from the mess, I got to have a message, the chronic illness, means I can have my own chronicle, from the lemon I made the lemonade and the disability, gives me the ability to fight harder. Thank you Jesus for building me through hardship.”
Those are just, many of the wise and uplifting words spoken by Mpamba. He came in as World Aids Day Actvist for Africa and he left the StruMovement offices, with an additional title of StruMovement Aids ambassador. True to the message, Mpamba is gifted with an HIV walking billboard scrub.
Rapetswa; “the social activist conversation continues on this disease and many others. The Walking billboard scrub for HIV was just a first of many walking billboard scrubs. For StruMovement we will continue to disrupt the social activist space, with our messages for the health profession impacting broader communities. Look out for our walking billboard on all other diseases, like cancers and many more.”