Antiretroviral Therapy: Chance for a New Life with HIV

Story 05

February 2, 2024

Natalia (name changed), 20 years old

Photo credit: UNDP in Belarus

My mother told me that I had HIV when I was 12 years old. She asked for forgiveness, but I reacted calmly. Even then, thanks to my mum and information I got at school, I knew that one can live normally with HIV, even well. I don’t get easily offended, and I didn't see the point in blaming my mum. I just had to learn to live with it. I was not to blame for anything either. I think I was very mature for my age, even before adolescence. 

My mother made sure that I was not alone with my disease. She sent me to conferences and summer camps for HIV-positive kids. Now, as an adult, I’m sometimes approached by children who, like me once, first learned about their HIV status from their parents. I am doing my best to help them.

My close circle knows I am HIV positive: friends, dorm neighbors. Everyone reacted well. I noticed that people under 25 take it easier. The older generation still has some prejudice stemming from the 90s that people with HIV infection should be avoided. My grandmother is a doctor and has a medical degree. Yet even she has a biased attitude towards me and my mother. It got to the point that she wouldn’t allow my mum to hold my sister in her arms.

I don't consider HIV infection a problem. It’s a chronic disease. Only my actions define me as a person. I don't see any differences between me and other people.

Music saves me from the outside world. When I feel bad, I play piano and compose a few lines. It helps me release negative energy. Music is my antidepressant.

I have always felt uncomfortable hiding my HIV status but now my job puts some limits on me. Who knows how management or clients would react. I’d like to just write music like Freddie Mercury. I feel very sorry for him because there was no treatment when he got sick and nothing could be done. Those were scary times. Things are different now.

I don't consider HIV infection a problem. It’s a chronic disease. Only my actions define me as a person. I don't see any differences between me and other people.

I am in excellent health. Thanks to antiretroviral therapy (ART), my immune system is stronger than that of many healthy people. I took sick leave only twice over the last five years. People living with HIV constantly check their health and know exactly how many CD4 cells they have. Healthy people often don’t know much about their immunity. I just try to look at the bright sight in everything. It's easier to live this way.

The blood of a healthy person contains 800-1200 CD4 cells that are responsible for the immune system’s response to various infections. HVI-positive people with a favorable course of disease have a cell count of about 500 CD4-lymphocytes per 1 ml of blood. A decrease to 200 cells and below is life-threatening, as opportunistic infections develop in the body.  

The only thing that worries me is having to go to the hospital with my future partner. He will have to formally acknowledge that he is aware of my HIV status. If he doesn't do this and I get pregnant, I could go to jail.

I was very worried when I got into my first relationship at 17. I realized that I needed to tell everything, and I began to prepare my boyfriend. He guessed it anyways because of how I brought up this topic and said that there was nothing wrong with it. I felt much better because I was understood and not judged.