By ELIAS LARI
DESPITE living with the AIDS virus for 17 years, Steven Taka from Western Highlands believes he will live to achieve his dreams.
The 50-year-old decided to come out publicly to testify and encourage those living with the disease to stay positive and not to be discouraged in spite of the discrimination and stigma they may face.
Taka said AIDS did not need to be a death sentence even though there was no cure for it; he said as long as people took proper care of themselves, followed medical advice and most importantly conducted themselves in a positive manner, they would be able to lead fulfilling lives.
Taka from Tambul district was diagnosed with the virus in 2002 after having prolonged diarrhoea.
He went to the Kiripia Health Centre in Tambul for treatment and was asked to do a HIV test with a sample of his blood sent to Port Moresby.
After the results arrived a month later, Taka was asked to go to the Rebiamul Health Centre in Mt Hagen where he was told that he had contracted the virus.
“That time there was no proper HIV counselling in place and a lady who was there gave me some tablets to take home and live on it when ART (anti-retro-viral therapy) drug was not introduced in the country,” Taka said.
“I lost all hope when I received my results and knew my status, I was expecting death,” he said.
“No one was there for me. My family, community and even my friends started losing their hope in me and I was at home, in my sick bed.”
Taka said in the mornings he would go into the jungle and pray for God’s mercy, forgiveness and healing. Taka said for a time he felt that he was in his last days and had lost hope.
Despite losing connection to most of his friends and relatives, his wife stayed loyal to him and cared for him which gave him the strength to survive.
He said in 2006 when the ART drug was first introduced he was one of the many HIV positive people who were the first in the country to start taking medications.
Taka said the ART medication restored his health and allowed him to live a healthy life.
“In 2007, people living with HIV and AIDS came together and formed the organisation Tru Warriors,” he said.
“I was the president from 2008-2015, coordinating all programmes in Western Highlands,” Taka said.
He said in 2015 when AusAid pulled out its support of Baptist Union, the group collapsed because of a lack of funding.
That same year, Taka said while he was on the street again, the Western Highlands government advertised a position of HIV and AIDS coordinator for the Tambul-Nebilyer district – he applied and was accepted.
Taka said he was happy that he had a job which covered an area that he knew well and lived in every day.
“In June 2017, I experienced a miracle when my wife became pregnant; thankfully she tested negative for HIV and we had a daughter who was also born negative,” Taka said.
“Today I feel blessed to be able to live to see my hopes and visions come to pass.”
He said people who were living with the virus had the opportunity to live fulfilling and positive lives in their communities.
Taka said many people who tested positive for HIV did not need to lose hope, and, if anything, that state of being would give them time to assess themselves, refocus on living better lives.
“Treat AIDS as an ordinary sickness or a lifetime disease and move on with it because I have faith that AIDS does not kill but it is the people’s failure to follow strict instructions and good advice,” Taka said.
He also called on the parents and students to apply some form of control over mobile phones, Facebook and the internet because that could lead them into risky situations. As the district coordinator, Taka said the spread of HIV and AIDS was a social problem that needed to be addressed through education, training and awareness on the disease.
“I’m living with this virus and I know the good and bad sides of it and it is time people protected themselves from it and if they have it they don’t have to give up.”
Taka encouraged those living with the virus to be strong and live normal lives and pursue their dreams and hopes and strive to find peace and fulfilment.
By ELIAS LARI