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'I'm desperate for help now'

By unknown | Oct 27, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

EXCESSIVE drinking is not advisable for people taking HIV-Aids medication since it might counteract the effect of the drugs.

EXCESSIVE drinking is not advisable for people taking HIV-Aids medication since it might counteract the effect of the drugs.

Elizabeth Xaba is proof of this. Xaba is a 57-year-old woman living in Soweto.

From her puffy face and pale lips one can easily tell that she drinks heavily.

Xaba is not only battling alcoholism. In 2000 she was diagnosed with HIV evenbut before that she had been in and out of hospital.

"I started getting sick in 1984 but did not know the cause. I heard radio announcements urging people who are sick to get tested. I went to Florida clinic, where I was tested and then I was told that I had HIV," Xaba says.

Xaba has been on anti-retroviral therapy for the past three years. Her CD4 count was at 179 when she started treatment and it strengthened, reaching a healthy 533. But now it's slowly taking a nose-dive.

"Because of my excessive drinking my CD4 count is now at 233. I don't even eat before drinking. Moreover, I skip my medication since I'm not supposed to take alcohol when on ARVs," Xaba says with regret all over her face.

"Doctors and nurses say I have to go to the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. They say I will not survive if I continue like this. I will die."

Rehabilitation is nothing new to Xaba. When she was still employed in the 90s her employer noticed her problem and sought help for her from Sanca. She stayed sober for only six months.

But this time, Xaba says, she is desperate for help.

"It's because I always get depressed from seeing all the filth in the house since if there's no woman around. When I'm drunk I can't work. The alcohol gets into my body and paralyses me," she says.

But why does she continue drinking so much?

"I have problems," she says. "I look after my two elderly sisters who are sick and that adds to my misery. They also drink and when they are drunk they often say to me: 'We don't want your food because you have Aids'."

She is aware of the dangers of excessive drinking for someone on HIV-Aids medication.

Dr Gail Ashford, lecturer at Wits' Donald Gordon Medical Centre in Johannesburg, cautions against mixing alcohol with ARVs.

"There seems to be very complicated interactions - not just at the level of drugs and at the level of physiology with the liver - but it also affects the immune system, causing deterioration.

"So somebody who is HIV-positive and abuses alcohol is more likely to have a low CD4 count and is more likely to progress to full-blown Aids quicker," Ashfordexplains.

Xaba says she wants to end her relationship with alcohol. In the first step to recovery, she visited the local branch of Sanca in Soweto, where I accompanied her.

After a session with a social worker she says she is "optimistic about the kind of help" she will get from Sanca. - Health e-News


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