26-year-old Mike wears an innocent look. He is highly trusted by his parents who believe that he would never keep them in the dark about anything concerning his life. But contrary to the parents’ conviction, he is a homosexual; a practice he adopted from a tender age but has kept away from them.
Besides being a homosexual, the young man is also living with the HIV virus; another matter he has kept away from his parents’ knowledge. Even on occasions when the parents voice out their concern for people living with HIV, Mike joins them to do so without them knowing that their son is also a victim.
“I knew about my status in 2013 and started treatment the same year,” he said.
“I was 21 years old when I discovered that I am HIV-positive. I was a little bit sober when I learnt about it, but at the same time, I was well informed about HIV before I did the test. Before then, I was a member of dedication peers educating and sensitising people about HIV. So, when I learnt about mine, it wasn’t much of a problem because I had good information about it. I just felt that life must go on.”
Asked how his parents reacted to his HIV status, Mike responded: “My parents are not in any way aware of it. I haven’t told them because I feel they do not have good information about HIV. They still feel that the virus is a death sentence because it is incurable.”
Telling our correspondent how he contracted the virus, Mike said: “I am convinced that I got the virus through sex and no other means. I am gay, but I do show feelings for females too. I grew up being a homosexual. When I was about 12 years old, I started admiring boys like me as if they were females. I started practising homosexuality while I was still in primary school.
“In those days, we would only admire and touch each other. If there was no one at home, we would engage in some plays, saying your thing is bigger than mine. Gradually, it developed into full blown homosexuality.
“We do go to hotels or friends’ houses to have fun. We prefer going to a friend’s house because privacy is more guaranteed there than in a hotel. When I am in need, I approach my sex partners and they assist with whatever they have.”
Asked how he woos his same sex partners into a relationship, Mike said: “It is not about approaching the other person. It is by contact. When we see each other, the body chemistry tells us we are one.”
Completely ruling out the thought of getting married, he said: “I don’t want to marry. I want to enjoy my life to the fullest.”
While Mike is unruffled about his status, he is greatly disturbed by reports of foreign donors withdrawing their support for HIV treatment.
He said: “People will go mad and mentally upset if donors withdraw. Do you know how much the drug costs? Apart from people dying, if foreign donors withdraw, many victims will start doing what they are not supposed to do just to survive.
“Death is secondary in this matter, because I believe that if you are going to die, it will take a long while. Imagine somebody earning N15,000 a month and has to pay N10,000 a month for the drug. How would he cope? It will cause many more to sleep around, and it is not everybody who wants to sleep with you wants protected sex. Some people are ready to pay N100,000 to make love without any protection.
Like Mike, like others
Mike is not alone in the business of keeping his parents in the dark about his status. Another victim, Onoja, does.
Onoja said: “I became aware of my HIV status in 2014 at the age of 18. My parents are not aware of my status because I don’t want them to start thinking about my problem. It is my problem and not theirs. From my estimation, I think I became positive through sexual intercourse.
I became bi-sexual by force and not by choice, because I would need to get married one day and have children because of my mum and dad.
“Even if I don’t get married, someone will get pregnant for me. If I am in another country where there is understanding, I will not be bi-sexual. I am gay. Nobody initiated me into it. It has been in me right from the time I started having feelings for the opposite sex; I also started having feelings for people of same sex too. So, I started practising homosexuality with my neighbours. Whenever we were doing drama as children, I would be the wife and another boy would be the husband. We would start touching from there.
“I had my first homosexual relationship have had many other same sex partners thereafter. I was already into it while I was in secondary school, but we never went beyond touching each other. But when I left school, I started having intercourse and became HIV-positive.”
Speaking on his challenge as an HIV victim, Onoja said: “The challenge I have is that I have to hide to take my medication in the house so that my parents would not know about it. I am also very much afraid about the issue of donors withdrawing. If that happens, what would happen to people like us? The government should see how they can work with the funders
“I have colleagues who have died but I feel that they died because they wanted to. This is because they refused to go for treatment. Others were not taking their medications regularly and these are medications that you must take every day and at a particular time. If you stop taking them, the virus will get stronger and compound your health condition. Some of our colleagues still engage in unprotected sex. “
It was another disturbing revelation when our correspondent spoke with Robinson who unequivocally declared that he was gay.
He said: “I am a gay. I became a homosexual when I was in SS1. Nobody introduced me to it. I just found myself having sexual feelings for people of the same sex. But I didn’t practise it then. I started practising it in 2013.
“It was from this that I got HIV virus, because nobody taught me about safe sex. Some of my sex partners may be having the virus too. But I stopped engaging in unprotected sex with my partners immediately I became aware of my status.”
Like his peers, Robinson said his parents were also not aware of his nature as a gay and his HIV status.
“I tested positive in 2015 but I started treatment a year later. I was 25 years old then. My parents are not aware of my status. I didn’t tell them because I don’t know how they would react to it. I was seeing horrible things the first day I took my anti-retroviral drug.”
He said he would only get married for the purpose of pleasing his parents. “I would want to get married in future because of family pressure and belief system. Otherwise, I would not want to get married. I want to be a surrogate father. Marriage is not what I want.”
For Gabriel, the story is a bit different as he is not a homosexual. But he told our correspondent that his status as a person living with HIV has changed his sexual orientation.
He said: “I knew about my status in November 2015. I knew about it when I went with to a friend’s organisation on Ireti Street, Yaba, Lagos. I don’t want to tell my parents about it. Their reaction could be to throw me out of the house or disown me or try to know how I got the virus. That kind of reaction will affect me mentally and emotionally and that could hinder me from handling the challenge.
“I do have sexual urge and everybody has to handle it his own way. I am now asexual. I have sex with myself and I am satisfied. I know I can use condom but I won’t. I do have fears about my status. Who wouldn’t? I lost a victim colleague and it was very painful to me. When the fear of death strikes you, you would imagine that you could be next.”
Gabriel also dismissed the idea of getting married, saying: “Marriage is not on my mind. I just want to be successful. I don’t want to see myself getting married even in the future because I don’t want to put a burden on another person. I just want to be on my own. Ninety per cent of me is saying no to marriage.”
Violated by reckless landlord
It was a completely different story with Adesola, a lady living with the HIV virus. She has gone through humiliation, violation and rejection after she tested positive to HIV.
Reliving her ordeal, Adesola said: “I knew about my status in 2013. It began when I started falling sick in 2011. It started with a cut, then big boils and serious coughing. I started taking codeine to take care of it to no avail. The challenge resulted in sleepless nights.
“At a point, my body started itching and it was always as if a screw driver was going through my skin. Pus and blood always came out of the itchy spots.
“I was 19 years old when I discovered my status. The hospital told my mother about it after I was admitted but I didn’t even know. It was a friend that sent a text message to me that I am HIV-positive. The hospital didn’t get my consent before telling anybody about my status. Outsiders knew about my status before I did.”
With her status already a public issue, Adesola said she faced serious stigmatisation even among his sibblings. “My mother wasn’t hostile to me but my siblings were. My younger sister who was initially on my side later turned against me. I got stigmatised everywhere around me. I faced hell and slept in the passage for two years in my grandfather’s house, all because I am HIV-positive.”
Added to the pains of being stigmatised, Adesola tearfully recalls how a neighbour she sought shelter in his room violated her.
She said: “When I was discharged from the hospital and had to sleep in the passage, there was a heavy rain on one of the nights and I could not cope with the weather condition. I had to go and beg our neighbour to allow me sleep in his room. But he took advantage of that and violated me. I got pregnant and had a four-year-old girl as a result of that. The man didn’t know my status. I didn’t get married to him and I don’t even know where he has been in the past four years.
“The manner I had my baby was not a good thing, but my girl is making me feel on top of the world. The way I got the pregnancy was not a good way at alI; I was violated.
“I will educate my child about my status. I will let her know I was positive when I got her pregnancy. I will make her understand that being positive is not the end of the world. I will make her understand that HIV is even better than malaria.”
In spite of the unpleasant experience, she said: “I want to get married. I really wish to get married.”
She also expressed concern about dwindling support from foreign donors. “It gives me fears. In my own facility, we don’t pay to get treatment. But in some facilities, they have been paying for the past two years. Some pay between N5,000 and N6,000, and these are people who cannot afford a square meal a day for themselves.
“The implication is simply massive death. Those without strong immune system will consequently drop to the second line. I can say that 60 per cent of people living with HIV do not have good jobs.”