(Based on an exclusive interview given by Nqobile Zungu, and her doctor Dr Samele Madela to CNS -- Citizen News Service)
I met 37-year-old Nqobile Zungu at the 21st International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2016) that is being held in Durban. And yes, her looks were deceptive in the sense that one could never guess that her outwardly healthy body and cheerful attitude masked not one but three diseases. Now a mother of two kids, aged 12 and 8 years, Nqobile suffered from asthma from early childhood. In 2002, when she was 23 years old, she was diagnosed with diabetes. She went to a clinic and reported her symptom of itching in her private parts, but did not think it important enough to tell that she was also urinating frequently. The medication she got did not improve her condition.
"Two weeks later I went to a family planning clinic where I came across a pamphlet with signs and symptoms of diabetes. When I read that, I said this is myself. I went to the healthcare worker to check me for diabetes. My blood-glucose levels were very high and could not be controlled with oral medication. I was admitted in a hospital for two weeks. There I was given insulin and that made me feel better. Since then, I have been taking insulin twice daily."
But this was not the end of Nqobile's woes. In 2004, at the time of her first pregnancy, she tested positive for HIV. This was a devastating blow to her. She had contracted the virus from her partner who continued to remain in a state of denial. She delivered a baby boy through a C-section as the baby was too big because of her diabetes.
"Fortunately my baby was negative. My partner was positive but he had hid that fact from me. I did not know his status at that time. When I told him about my status he lied to me that he had gone to the clinic and tested negative. It was only later that I found he was positive. Things did not work out well between us and we parted ways. I later found another partner who was HIV positive but he was honest with me and we are happy with each other."
Nqobile started on anti-retroviral treatment (ART) in 2012 on the insistence of her doctor. Her CD4-cell count was 586 at that time and she was not feeling sick at all. But Dr Samele Madela did not want to take any chance, as she also had diabetes, and put her on ART right away. She was tested for TB also but thankfully did not have it.
"I am on medication for three chronic diseases. My asthma, diabetes and HIV treatment are all free under the government programme--I get the drugs for them on the same date at the same health facility which is at walking distance from my place. I am fine now, as you can see."
(Yes, indeed! When CNS met Nqobile, she looked fit as a fiddle and her smiling face radiated joy and self confidence.)