Everyone knows 32-year-old Immanuel Sheefeni, an HIV/AIDS activist who tested positive to HIV three years ago and publicly spoke of his previous strong hatred towards women and how he wanted to pass on the virus to as many women in revenge. It took him a long time to adjust and to become an HIV/AIDS awareness activist.
Today, Sheefeni discloses that he has fallen in love with a woman who is also HIV positive – 29-year old Princess Ndapanda Kandjeke.
“I didn’t have to disclose. She knew before hand,” said Sheefeni when asked how he broke the news of his HIV-positive status. In fact, the lovebirds hooked up at an HIV/AIDS support group. Not long ago, Sheefeni was in a relationship with an HIV-negative woman.
“My past relationship was a bit uncomfortable compared to now. Maybe because I feel like we are in the same boat. I’m a little bit freer compared to then. Yes, I was in love but there’s a difference,” he commented when asked about his past relationship.
Kandjeke told New Era Weekend that she recently found out that she has HIV. “It came as a shock I won’t lie. I did shed a few tears,” said Kandjeke. In fact, she prolonged going for an HIV test because she feared for the worst, she explained. “I saw it coming,” she added, explaining that she knew that her previous partner whom she suspects of infecting her with the virus that causes AIDS, was reckless.
“He never showed me off on social networks and he used to like women. He avoided going for an HIV test saying he was already tested,” said Kandjeke.
Nevertheless, nothing will stop her from living her best life, a determined Kandjeke said.
“My CD4 count is high,” said Kandjeke who recently started HIV treatment. CD4 cells, sometimes also called T-cells, or T-helper cells, are white blood cells which organise the immune system’s response to bacterial, fungal and viral infections.
An HIV-positive person’s CD4 cell count drops by about 45 every six months. Without treatment the risk of developing AIDS-related illnesses is higher.
Sheefeni considers himself privileged because not all HIV positive people are fortunate to find a partner to share their lives with.
“To be honest, it’s quite challenging. It’s not easy at all. It’s really difficult. It’s only easy if they are not willing to disclose. If they are willing to go into a relationship and lie about their status and avoid going for HIV tests its easy. But if they really have to disclose its really challenging,” he said, saying he was saved by the fact that he publicly declared his HIV positive status.
“I encourage couples to get tested before they even become sexually intimate so that they know where they stand right from the beginning,” added Kandjeke, explaining that in her previous relationship, the partner always made excuses of going for an HIV test.
Sheefeni too believes it is best for partners to declare their HIV status at the start of the relationship. This, he explained, is to avoid attachments should the one partner wish to terminate the relationship in the event where one partner is positive and the other negative.
“…If you wait for three to six months into the relationship to reveal your HIV positive status it will be hard because you are emotionally attached and you may hurt your partner for not declaring your status,” explained Sheefeni.
Kandjeke explained that it is not easy for an HIV-positive person to declare their status to a potential partner because of the stigma involved. “If the person is negative they may even put it all over social networks,” she added.
The couple plans on getting married soon. “We want to get married and run my AIDS consultancy together because she has a degree in the field of HIV,” said Sheefeni. “We will get married and I will give him three children,” said the soft-spoken Kandjeke.
Sheefeni and Kandjeke explained that people living with HIV/AIDS are victims of society.
“The fear of showing up your face at the health centre, you may come across neighbours who are also HIV positive and you don’t know what they will think of you, especially when you are so young,” said Kandjeke. Sheefeni added that people hide their HIV positive statuses because they are afraid of being treated differently.
“To me personally, I have won the stigma because I do not allow it, but to other people stigma is still so much high. People are still scared because if you see the fear in people’s eyes then you can tell they are scared of stigma that’s why the stigma is there,” he said.
People are scared because they do not want to be the subject of discussion, added Sheefeni. “We can say stigma is no longer there but the reality is people are scared out there. The more awareness people are creating the more scared people are becoming,” Sheefeni remarked. In fact, he termed HIV/AIDS as a disease of “poor people”.
“We don’t have a lot of role models coming out and putting a face to HIV/AIDS. We need more powerful people, who are HIV positive to come out and say they have the disease. HIV is known to be only for poor people. There are no rich people known by the public to have the virus and who are living positively. In most cases, what we hear is just rumours,” Sheefeni said.
“Show me one leader or rich person who is known to be HIV positive. There is none because they are not coming out and people are dying every day and they blame a different illness,” he added.
According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) report, which was recently launched in Namibia, the absolute risk of HIV infection peaks in adulthood (ages 25-49), especially among men.
In Southern Africa (Namibia included), the risk of HIV infection peaked after age 25 years. And, 50 percent of new infections among men were in aged 30-49 years.
Meanwhile, Sheefeni says he does not know who infected him with HIV. “My previous lifestyle was very rough. I was so wild. I was a party freak and I was a womaniser – dating left, right and centre,” he added.
His lifestyle changed when he tested positive for HIV. “That’s when reality hit me and then I had to consider my health and I had to do a lot of research to live positively with the virus,” Sheefeni shared.
In his quest to find out who might have infected him, Sheefeni at one point put a request on social media requesting women who suspect that they might have infected him to come forward. In return, he offered N$20 000 as a reward.
“But no one came through,” he said softly.
Sheefeni has since made peace with his status. “I no longer hold grudges at whoever may have infected me,” he added.