A woman, who said she married a man who knew he was HIV positive but kept it a secret, wants to wage a one-woman war on persons who knowingly infect others with the virus.
Patricia (not her real name) only separated from her husband of over six years seven weeks ago, even though she found out way back in 2006 that he knew he had the virus when he married her. She wanted to give him a chance and wanted the marriage to work, but according to her the man she promised before God to love forever never really cared for her and her three teenage daughters.
She had had enough and she decided to empower herself by finding a job and throwing her husband out. Now she does not want to just “sit and do nothing; I want to make a difference.”
At 36, Patricia counts herself very lucky because even though she has been married to an HIV infected man for years, today she is still HIV-negative.
The woman and her husband are called what is known as a discordant couple: a pair of long-term sexual partners in which one has a sexually transmitted infection and the other does not.
The mother of three feels she was spared for a reason and while she claims that her campaign is not an attempt to make her husband pay for the emotional trauma he wilfully put her through, her face tells a different story.
Her face is etched with pain and while at times she becomes almost teary, at other times during her interview with Stabroek News she was visibly angry and agitated.
If Patricia had her way her name and that of her husband along with a photograph of herself would have been splashed in the pages of this newspaper, because, as she puts it, “I want people to believe that I am real and that this real. I don’t want it to be no fiction.”
However, in the end she agreed that her story should be told anonymously after the implications of naming herself and husband were explained to her, even though her husband in her words, “has no right to privacy because he is not doing what is right.”
“You know why I want people to know? I am lucky but the many women he continues to sleep with are not that lucky. They are becoming infected and some of them are even making babies for him. What will happen to those children?” the angry woman asked.
Patricia said she thought long and hard about the decision to speak out and she feels that she is doing the right thing by doing so. Her anger and desire to speak out are also fuelled by the fact that many persons are aware of her husband’s actions but refuse to do anything about it. She said the man is a member of the joint services and his superiors have received numerous complaints about him, yet he remains on the job and continues to have intimate relationships with many women.
Prior to leaving the union, Patricia had started another campaign which saw her tracking down women who she learnt her husband was seeing, and informing them of his status.
“And is then the domestic violence start,” she said. He never used to beat me really bad but he would slap me across the face and many times he burned my clothes to keep me from going out, but I still use to do it.”
However, she said she later realized that she was dying emotionally because many times she would just be in bed not doing much for herself and neglecting her children – none of whom are her husband’s.
“I had to get out and even though I had told him that I would stick by him he did not do the right thing and I had to save myself,” she said with a sad shake of the head.
Seven years ago
It is painful to talk about the early days of their meeting way back in 2004, because Patricia remembers that she was swept off her feet and thought she had met the man of her dreams.
After a meeting at a phone booth in an East Coast Demerara village the romance quickly developed and before long the two were living together. But even before they moved in together there were warning signs that things were not right, but these were ignored by the woman in love.
She said a friend told her that her boyfriend was HIV positive because his former partner had died from a related illness. By then she was already sexually active with her lover and instead of asking him she decided to have an HIV test which showed up negative.
Reassured, Patricia said, she moved in with the man and he later took her to see some of his friends. One of his female friends pulled her aside and warned her that he was HIV positive. As she puts it, the woman told her “is a bad thing when stranger don’t know burial ground because if you see how he was big and fat but the girl he was living with mash he up.” This time around she confronted her partner but he flat out denied he was positive and according to Patricia she believed him because she too was negative
A phone call from another source did not change that belief because when she asked him again he asked if she was insane since she was negative, and warned her not to allow people to think for her.
In the end she married him but every now and then she would be told by various persons that her husband was HIV positive, and even though there was a nagging doubt in her mind she was still reassured as test after test kept showing that she was HIV negative. Months into the marriage, in 2005, her husband fell ill with vomiting and diarrhoea and he told her that it was because he had done a lot of work in the Great Flood the country experienced that year.
“He got weak and the sickness would not go away and he lost a lot of weight and in the end I had to take him to the emergency at Georgetown hospital,” the woman recalled.
She became suspicious when her husband refused to allow her to go in with him to the doctor and “everyone was acting so secretive and just looking at me funny.” She later learnt that he “had a clinical history” at the hospital, but when she questioned him about it “he told me I too inquisitive and if I was a police officer and I should join the force.”
Looking back, Patricia admits that she may not have had “her head on right” because of everything that happened, but she reiterated that her negative HIV results kept her from believing that the man was HIV positive.
A meeting with the man’s boss revealed that he had received a complaint from a “social worker” in the area where they lived that numerous women had named her husband as the man who infected them with the virus.
“I told him it can’t be true because I am negative, and I took out my papers and showed him, but he said it is true because the women told the social worker,” she recalled.
In late 2006, she said, a social worker informed her that a woman, whom she knew, said she was pregnant by her husband and he had also infected her with HIV.
“Like I just know then that it was true and I started crying and I went home and I tell my three children. I tell them to cherish me and that we have to live for now because this HIV thing is true.”
Her husband then admitted that he was HIV positive but claimed he only found out recently when he had done a test.
“I started hollering and jumping up. I told him he plan the whole thing and that he was not thinking about my three children when he come to me with the virus and never tell me anything.”
She said while her husband admitted that he was on medication, he claimed that he was not aware what it was for because “the doctor just looked at him as if he scorned him and told him to use the medication and he must have it replaced when it was finish.”
She was surprised when she subsequently took another HIV test and it was still negative, and it was then that she was informed by the counsellor about discordant couples.
“In the end I told him I was willing to give the marriage another try and for us to work at it and I stopped having unprotected sex with him.”
She decided to give the marriage another try even though her husband never admitted that he knew he was positive when he met her and she admitted that this put a strain on the marriage.
Sleeping with the enemy
Patricia refers to her years of marriage to her husband as “sleeping with the enemy.” This is not just because she firmly believes he knew he was positive when he met her but also because he continued to have unprotected sex with women, even after he admitted to her he was positive.
She revealed that during the latter years of their marriage “sometimes we would experiment,” meaning that she would have unprotected sex with him a few times but she remained negative.
“But even though I was negative I was still treated as if I am positive because of him. When we visit persons we would be served in sanitary cups and plates and this would really hurt me.”
She attended support group meetings with her husband and said she learnt a lot about the virus but while she wanted the marriage to work “my husband seemed to just want to infect as many women as he could.
“In my marriage it was like I was under mental slavery and I am glad that I came out. I feel by telling my story a lot of people would go and get tested and a lot of husbands would stay with their wives and not look outside.”
She supports the controversial motion that was taken to parliament by GAP/ROAR MP Everall Franklin which seeks to institute legislation to hold persons criminally responsible for wilfully infecting others with HIV.
The motion, which was sent to a special select committee last year, sought to have the relevant laws of Guyana amended to make the wilful transmission of HIV from one person to another an indictable offence. In addition, it sought to have non-disclosure laws or guidelines amended to allow for information to be used by the prosecution if so required and for hospitals, clinics and such agencies which have the results of tests and other vital information bound by law to release such information to any court engaged in a matter. The motion also sought to have a charge of attempted murder instituted against any individual found to have endangered the life of another in a wilful manner.
Patricia feels that HIV infected persons “have too much rights and people need to be protected from them and they must be held responsible for their actions.”
Pressed, Patricia reluctantly admitted that the onus is on every individual to protect him/herself and as such should ensure that s/he and his/her prospective partner are tested before becoming intimate.
“I know I should have let him do a test with me before I had sex with him and even after I did the test he should have done it but that does not mean he must not pay for what he is doing. I know at least seven women he infected during our marriage.”
Patricia is not scared that her husband will find out she has been telling her story, as according to her while he might want to harm her she is on a mission to save others.
“I am not scared. He break me into a million pieces and it took a while to get myself back together and if I die today or tomorrow I will not die without a voice,” the woman said in a determined tone.
And while she speaks out, Patricia said she also continues to offer a supportive pair of shoulders to the many women she met while attending support group meetings with her husband.