Fred: "it's better than dying."

"Next week, it will be eight weeks since I started treatment. For sure, the treatment is a burden and the hospital is far away. It takes me three hours on foot to get there every week. But it's better than dying."
"I started getting ill in 1997. I had a fever, I felt weak, I was dizzy and my limbs were itchy and sore. I was admitted to hospital in December 2000 because I was very ill. I stayed a month and had to stop a working. It was a disaster. I'm a farmer and no-one could replace me. My mother is too old, my sons are studying and my neighbours have their own farms to look after. Everything I had planted was lost. I had heard of HIV on the radio. They described the symptoms so I made the link to mine. I did my first test in June 2001. Frazer, the counsellor, told me that I had contracted the virus, but that I shouldn't worry, that it didn't mean this was the end of everything. After my test, I went to an HIV clinic. "I took medication to get better but it had little effect. Then they told me about ARV treatment. They said it was a treatment that was already being used in England and America. I am very lucky to be able to get ARVs in such a poor country. I immediately agreed to it. "Next week, it will be eight weeks since I started treatment. For sure, the treatment is a burden and the hospital is far away. It takes me three hours on foot to get there every week. But it's better than dying. And soon, I'll only need to come once a month to the HIV clinic to take my medication. My treatment has made a big change to my life. In fact at each consultation, they write 'no problem' in my notebook. I don't have a fever anymore and I don't feel sick. I feel good, my body is strong again. I have even put on a bit of weight. But the most important thing is that I've been able to start work again. "I'm also going to be able to build a new house. I know that life is going to get better now. People around me are also changing. They say to me "you look better. What's going on?". Or they don't talk about it anymore. Yesterday, for example, I was with my brother and some friends came to join us. We started talking, as if nothing had happened. Even if people saw me ill before, they don't see me as being ill today. So they don't talk about it. When I found out I had HIV, I immediately told my family. I said to them: 'I have HIV. Watch out my sons! Watch out! See what happened to me!' I also told my best friend. In my close circle, reactions varied. In fact, there are two categories of persons: those who know how the virus is transmitted and those who are prejudiced. "They think that you can catch the disease 'just like that' and they stop coming to see you. My counsellor told me about the HIV groups that exist. Taking part in them did me a lot of good. I feel very involved. Actually, I'm going to participate in a training session soon so that I can also become a volunteer counsellor and inform young people. It's perfect because I always wanted to be a teacher, but I was never able to continue my studies - I had to work. "Now, I want to teach others how to avoid getting infected. People have to understand the danger of this disease and the danger of not protecting yourself. I think that people have to be informed because many only have very vague ideas about it all."