(JAMAICA STAR) – Approximately 19 years ago, Olivia Whyte* had thoughts of committing suicide when she learnt that she was HIV Positive.
“I cursed God, and I hated men. I even secretly blamed my family although I knew that they had no influence on my status. I was out for revenge, and I will admit that I knowingly and purposely gave a few men too,” she said.
Whyte, who was just 21 years old when she found out she had the virus, is just one of more than 34,000 Jamaicans living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The 2016 Ministry Of Health HIV Epidemiology Report shows more than 2,000 newly diagnosed or reported HIV cases, up from 1, 222 new cases in 2015.
Whyte told THE WEEKEND STAR that she contracted HIV from the father of her children who only told her of his status weeks before he died.
“I thought he was joking because he was so flat and had no remorse. I was afraid to do a test, and when the doctor called me back in for the results, I just didn’t go. I would rather not know. There were nights when I would stay up all night because I feared falling asleep and not waking up,” she said.
She said that she moved out of her Kingston community and went to a rural district.
Although she refused to take her medication, Whyte explained that her outward appearance was normal and her skin was flawless.
She had men falling at her feet, and she wasted no time getting under the covers.
However, Whyte said that her actions played on her conscience in 2006, years after she infected a married man. It was then that she decided that she had to stop spreading the virus.
“I slept with a married man once and I told him to use a condom, but he insisted on feeling me raw. He then gave his wife, and a few years ago I saw her when I was at the doctor getting my meds. She told me that her husband had slept around and now she is suffering. My heart sank, and I knew I had to make a change,” she said.
But according to Patrick Laylor, Police and Advocacy Manager of Jamaica Aids Support, Whyte’s decision to spread the virus is not uncommon.
“We are aware of the stigma that may follow, but what we do is to help them to prepare for it. We have professional counsellors. Sometimes their (victims) initial reaction is to seek revenge by spreading the virus, but we encourage them not to and the responses are usually positive,” he said.
Currently, there are growing calls in local legal circles to implement laws to make it a criminal offence for persons to wilfully and knowingly spread the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
However, Whyte has changed her life.
Eventually, she returned to her Kingston community and is now steadily taking her medication. But she admits that some days are bleak.
“I contracted pneumonia, and I believed that was the end. I was bedridden for days. God brought me on my feet again, and I am living my life to the fullest,” she said.
As it relates to an intimate relationship, Whyte said she is happily engaged to a younger partner.
“I never hide my status from my partner. It may sound strange, but for some reason when I tell him, he becomes more attached to me. I think it’s because I am honest enough to say it,” she said.
Laylor noted that Whyte is just one of many persons living with the virus who sport a healthy relationship.
“Disclosure is one of the things that we promote here as we want couples to make informed and responsible decisions and take the necessary precautions when having intercourse or even having a child or children,” he said.
* Name changed