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"It doesn't bother me that I'm HIV+; I've accepted it." Interview with Janet Mpalume
Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa,
September 01, 2009

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Janet Mpalume - "China"When were you tested for HIV?

What was your life like before you got tested?
I used to get sick. And I didn't know that if you got tested they could treat you. It wasn't until I almost died that I thought to myself that I should go to MSF and get tested. So I got tested and was admitted to the MSF HIV treatment programme. In just a week I had recovered my strength.

What was your reaction when you got tested?
I made my peace with it. There was nothing I could do to change it. When I went to get tested, I actually couldn't wait to get my results because I wanted to get the treatment. I told her there was no need to waste time counseling me, I was ok with it. I had already made my peace with it. Listen

What are you doing to live positively?
The soccer club helps me maintain my positivity. It doesn't bother me that I'm HIV positive, because I've accepted it. I'm not ashamed.

What are you doing to maintain a healthy lifestyle?
We eat things with a little cooking oil, and not too much sugar. We use whole meal maize meal, not the refined Parlenta - they said we shouldn't eat that. I eat things like Mhunga, Zviyo. We use the whole meal maize meal when we can, but sometimes I end up buying the refined meal.

You have said that you are no longer interested in men. Can you tell me what happened for you to make that decision?
The man I used to live with had many girlfriends. From there I stopped being interested in men.

Was he the man you were living with when you got tested?

How do you feel about adult HIV education?
I think it works very well. The way we are teaching people and the way they see us as people who are living positively, they have decided that they should also get tested. People used to look down on us, but now they see us as people. Listen

People living with HIV are a bit better off because they know when to stop doing things that are unhealthy for themselves. I've met some people from Chitungwiza who said that they have trouble getting medicines. Or they have problems with the doctors, where the doctor takes your file, and they take you CD4 count, and they tell you that you are now on ARVs, without the Doctor having seen you. So someone will react to the pills, maybe they're on the wrong medications. But here in Epworth we are ok. Listen

What made you join the ARV Swallows?
I had heard that they wanted a women's soccer team for people living with HIV. I was told by Annafields Phiri, who had gone to the meeting in town. She said to me 'China, lets look for players'. Then we formed our team ARV Swallows, and we started to play.

Who named the team ARV Swallows?
There was an office in town where we were given the names. Its like they knew what they were doing when they gave us that name though because that medication is how we get the power to play soccer.

In the beginning people would say you're wasting your time going to see sick people play soccer but now they respect us. Both men and women. Listen

In the film you said that you died and came back. And you survived to fight stigma. What happened?
I woke up and I went to get tested at MSF. After that I started treatment and after a week I was fine. Where I live there are a lot of people who are sick and I was the one who was now teaching them that they should get tested and treated. If MSF can't treat them, I tell them to go to Parirenyatwa or Harare Hospital to get treatment. People say that that if you are HIV positive, you've already died, but you haven't. If you steal the police will still beat you, they don't care if you have HIV. People can now see that getting tested is a good thing. Listen

How are you fighting the stigma of HIV?
They way I see it people who are positive should have road shows to educate people about HIV. I think then the stigma will stop. Things are getting better though. With this film that was made, people are now seeing that you are still a person even if you are positive. Listen

You said earlier that you are using soccer to fight the stigma of HIV, do you think it's working?
They used to talk about us like those women with HIV, but come the following week and they've forgotten that about us. They just say women's soccer.

What did you think of the film?
While I was watching it, I thought it would teach people about us. The story that really came out was about positive women. The people I live with are really interested in seeing it again.

Do you have any advice?
For the young women who have found out that they are HIV positive, if they have been counseled and they follow what the doctors say, it is possible for them to have HIV negative babies. They shouldn't be ashamed or afraid to get tested. They have to follow what the doctors say and take the medications. Don't be ashamed to get tested, if you are, you will end up killing yourself.

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