8 FEATURE Friday, September 8 2017| NEW ERA Lusia Gideon and Paulus Erastus Photo: Nuusita Ashipala Couple live positively, overcome stigma Nuusita Ashipala Ongwediva Learning that you are HIV positive can be a daunting prospect especially in an age when people with HIV still face stigma, discrimination and social ridicule from a society that tends to be highly judgemental. But for Paulus Erastus and his wife Lusia Gideon, learning they were HIV positive – although initially shocking – was the cementing of a beautiful love story that led to nuptial vows eight years later. They started courting in the 1980s, cohabited for 11 years before they married and have been living positively for the past 15 years. Today, 57-year-old Gideon and 52-year-old Erastus are parents to three children and a grandson. Determined to live healthy and positively, although unemployed, the two survive on money the husband makes from doing deliveries for people in the surroundings. Gideon is a seamstress, tailoring clothes of all sorts of designs from their home at the New Reception informal settlement in Ongwediva. The husband was not at home when New Era arrived at the house as he had left early for a morning delivery and only arrived later to join the interview. Gideon, who is also usually up early, was keenly waiting in her pyjamas and had begun to relate their story when a man on a bicycle approached the house and before greeting asked his wife whether she had taken her ARVs. Gideon, a while later during the interview, paused to take her medication and lamented that she often forgets to take it at a set time. Erastus sat next to his wife and together they dwelled on their journey as a couple that now live positively with HIV. They related that, since testing HIV positive in 2002, how and when they got infected is a topic that has never come up for discussion. “For us taking our antiretroviral (ARV) drugs and ensuring that we have food at home remain the most important thing,” said Gideon. Like the tales of many HIVpositive people back in the day, when HIV was still a taboo, they too were ridiculed and called names and discriminated against. “But sometimes we also discriminated against ourselves, because we always assumed people were staring at us and knew that we were HIV positive, especially when we used to collect our ARVs from the hospital pharmacy,” said Gideon. But since the establishment of the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) clinic at the Oshakati Intermediate Hospital they now collect their ARVs monthly. Gideon said they discovered they were positive when their last daughter was born. “After her birth she was often sick and in and out of hospital and one day the nurses advised us to have her tested for HIV. “I did not suspect that I was positive so I did not object to have the baby being tested, but unfortunately the baby’s results came back positive. I was confused but I knew I had to get my husband and me tested together.” She recalls how uncomfortable she felt to disclose the news about the daughter to the husband, but a day later the husband had a headache and needed to get treated. “We always followed each other to wherever, so when we got to the hospital the nurses asked when the headache started and I just chipped in and told the nurse that it started when I told him that our daughter was HIV positive, and that is when we were advised to get tested and we also tested positive,” said Gideon. Erastus said that while his wife went on ARV treatment immediately after they tested positive, he only started with the treatment two years later because his viral load was still low. Erastus now takes one tablet twice daily yet his wife takes three tablets twice daily because she battled tuberculosis while on ARV treatment. He said he has taken his medicine without defaulting since then and was inspired by seeing other people taking medicine growing stronger. Gideon further related that her the morning to do odd jobs for the people in the area, but before he goes out daily he ensures he has taken his ARVs and has had a meal and enough water. “My husband doesn’t wait for anyone to give him food – when it’s meal before he goes and in most instances reminds me to take my medication because I often forget to take mine on time,” said Gideon. Today they view HIV as any other disease. But more so they see themselves as champions who have survived stigmatisation. “One of the thrilling moments of being HIV positive is to be called to address a crowd and encourage other people who are struggling to cope with being HIV,” said Gideon. “Our agony was short lived and today we boast of impacting other HIV-people positively and our home has become an interview centre for people from all walks of life who want to dip into our life journey of living positively.” “Today I am free, I am no longer ashamed to talk about my status. HIV is nothing to me and that is the spirit that this country needs generation,” added Gideon. Disclosing children’s HIV to them disclose to a child that he or she was born HIV positive, Gideon said it is imperative for such children to know their status. Having raised one of her own, she relates that sometimes they ask status, yet she says that should not deter any parent from informing their children about the truth. She instead encourages parents to take their children along every time they collect their treatment from the hospital because the hospital has supportive materials that prepare them until such a time they are deemed ready for their status to be disclosed. “My daughter also used to ask when she will be healed from taking these tablets and I had no answers for and gave them to health workers to answer when we collected our treatment and it worked,” said Gideon. especially for a child, because the treatment has side effects, including being dizzy, moody, and such a child needs to understand the sudden change in the body. Fighting HIV as a couple For many other couples testing positive is the start of arguments and disagreements in their homes. Erastus said that while he does it is vital to have peace and create a loving home for a family when battling HIV. Asked why he decided to marry his long-term girlfriend knowing they were HIV positive, Erastus said she had been there for him long before they discovered they were infected. “Leaving was never a choice. And HIV is not a shameful thing anymore. It was back in the day but it is now an ailment like any other,” said Erastus. Gideon encouraged HIV-positive people not to use the illness as a setback to achieve greater things in life. She reckons the treatment has side effects, but behind those side effects is a chance to live. She discouraged people to use especially those who do not have formal jobs. “If you use HIV as a chance to sleep, that is pure laziness. We taking treatment, but we should food in order to take our treatment unhindered,” said Gideon. The two say that dealing with being HIV positive can be easier when you surround yourself with people who are also HIV positive. They encouraged couples and their children to join support groups – because it is there where they can learn better how to live with themselves and others. “Even when you are struggling to tell the family – when you join a support group you will get ideas of how other people did it and you Of course stigma will be there but it fades with time,” said Gideon.
Friday, September 8 2017| NEW ERA 9 Edgar Brandt One on one with Sven Thieme Edgar Brandt Windhoek The name Sven Thieme has become synonymous with good corporate governance. As executive chairman of the Ohlthaver & List Group, which employs more than 6,200 people, Thieme is known for his hands-on approach to an entity touted as the largest privately held group of companies in the country. Recent estimates indicate that O&L Group generates revenues contributing roughly 4 percent to Namibia’s GDP. The Group has business interests in food production, trade, information technology, property leasing and development, renewable power generation, marine engineering, advertising and the leisure and hospitality industry. Thieme also serves on the boards of various companies, including the Windhoek Country Club Resort and Casino (WCCR), the Namibia Broadcasting Corporation, the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI), as well as Mobipay. He has been largely credited for turning around an ailing WCCR, to the extent that the hotel has been able to turn around its fortunes from a loss-making institution to one that pays government millions of dollars in dividends. Towards the end of 2016, with Thieme at the helm as chairman of the Board, WCCR revealed financial results showing gross margins, by April 30, 2016 of N was N million, slightly down on the previous year’s N million, mainly due to higher operational costs. Despite the challenges, WCCR was able to pay N million in dividends to government, its only shareholder. This week, senior business correspondent Edgar Brandt (EB) sat down with Sven Thieme Thieme to discuss the state of the Namibian economy, the performance of the O&L Group and, on a more personal note, what makes Thieme tick. EB: Given the current state of the economy, is the private sector doing enough to assist government to get out of the slump instead of employing the current ‘wait-andsee’ attitude? ST: No, I don’t think so and I am saying that because we should move from a reactive to a proactive private sector. We have currently initiated under the umbrella of the NCCI a Business/Enterprise Namibia Initiative to unite – or shall I say create – a common understanding with the various stakeholders that we as the private sector need to become more active and proactive. The main focus point right now is the joint (with the government) enhancement of the Namibian Investment Promotion Act. EB: Has the private sector lost Thieme at an international to manage the economy and, if regained? ST: If anything, the last 12 to 18 months are all the reason to regain trust, as I believe the right things are being attended to. But, Rome was not built or rebuilt in one day and the latest credit downgrading right now is rather unfortunate at this time. If anything, it should have been seen before by the credit rating agencies. We, as Namibians, should however not allow ourselves to be discouraged. EB: What are the lessons that commercial SOEs can learn from the turnaround of the Country ST: board is appointed. Secondly, a common understanding created with the relevant ministries with regard to a turnaround plan. The Thieme with an employee of Hangana Seafood during one of his visits plan then needs to be relentlessly implemented, speaking only one voice. The turnaround of the WCCR was hard work, an absolute teamwork with the government, with no hidden agendas. Absolute integrity, long-term thinking, with no self-enrichment and personal agendas are key ingredients for such success. EB: Should non- and turned around? ST: This depends on which SOE you talk about. Some for sure have the opportunity to be able to be run on a be re-evaluated to see whether they we need a plan for each of them. EB: The O&L Group registered a performance since then? ST: shall I say excited, and the reason is growth. We have created over 2,500 some industries that we operate in by investing in the right things. the performance of the ST: Yes absolutely. Off course they are at different maturity levels, but there is no excuse, such as “can’t do, Namibia is not the right place, etcetera,” and all the other excuses. A solution needs to be found to make things work and happen. EB: Why is it that none of the directors? When will we see some ST: In actual fact we do have black and female directors, and further to that, in an effort to diversify our leadership, we have invested heavily behind developing our previously disadvantaged talent, which for exactly this reason, they have been targeted by other organisations as high value candidates, and occupy leadership positions elsewhere. added any value to the Group and for you? ST: is, ‘Could more have been done?’ then I must also say, ‘It could have,’ but there is much learning about this. Key is that we learn to grow things to the next level. Investment Holdings received percent shareholders in O&L Holdings? ST: Very little, just like for all the O&L shareholders, as the entire resources generated are reinvested into the country to develop more sustainable businesses and thereby employment opportunities. to expand the Group’s BEE component? ST: Not sure what you mean by that, but we are doing everything on all fronts to become completely representative of our population. EB: On a lighter note, how would ST: I am somebody who lives his purpose: “giving a great life to people”. That excites me every morning when I wake up. EB: What do you do for relaxation (also, what music do you listen to and what movies or tv programmes do you watch)? ST: Running, playing music, watching soccer, cooking and enjoying great food, travelling and having fun with the family. moment of your career thus far? ST: Realising anything is possible in when we achieved the impossible of turning around O&L. This was in 2007. EB: Finally, who is your role model and why? ST: Our employees are my role models. I learn every day from our employees in terms of what excites them, what they can create if you let them, what it means for people if they can see what difference they make and if you recognise everything they do, how thankful and inspired they are.