Grey Wisiki has a quiet and gentle demeanour but isn’t shy about sharing his story with the world. On May 5th, 1995, at the age of 19, Grey learned that he was HIV+. He remembers that day very well – he was among five people that tested positive at the clinic. Today, just two are alive.
When Grey decided to get tested, there were a lot of superstitions and misconceptions about how HIV was transmitted. People living with HIV faced tremendous stigma that often made life very difficult in their communities. This, however, did not dissuade Grey: “ I needed to know the truth and I wanted others to also know the truth.”
Despite the devastating news, Grey immediately accepted his status with the knowledge that “no matter where I went, the virus would be with me for the rest of my life. There was no point trying to escape from the truth.” Grey decided to stay in his village and to set an example that would help others understand the facts about HIV. Instead of wasting time ruminating on the “how and why” of his infection, Grey focused on the future and did everything in his power to stay healthy.
Health workers often struggle to engage men in a family-focused approach to HIV care. However, Grey immediately realized that it was vitally important to protect his wife’s health as well and took her to be tested. After learning that she too was HIV+, Grey’s wife chose to leave the marriage, forcing him to fight the disease on his own. Grey subsequently started antiretroviral therapy and has remained healthy on treatment ever since.
Located on the north side of the Zomba plateau, the road from Nkasala village to Zomba District Hospital is a rough journey, even by car. Less than 10 years ago, people had to walk all day just to access HIV services in Zomba. Now, thanks to Dignitas’s work in decentralizing HIV services to rural communities, people like Grey can be tested and treated at health centres much closer to home.
Today Grey is happily married with 5 children – two daughters and three sons. He works as an ‘Expert Patient’ at the Nkasala Health Centre, where he provides counseling and support to people newly diagnosed with HIV. This includes facilitating an HIV support group and leading women in song at the antenatal clinic. “If it’s anything related to HIV care, I want to be there to help.”
Grey understands the struggles that people face in seeking HIV testing and treatment. He uses every opportunity he can to explain the difference between being HIV+ and having AIDS. “Look at me, I am healthy and have been HIV+ for the last 19 years.” As a man of faith, he encourages church leaders to act responsibly when informing their congregations about HIV and holds dear the old adage: “The truth will set us free.”
Grey’s motivation for sharing his testimony with others is clear: “By seeking HIV care, you are not only safeguarding your life, but you are safeguarding your family’s life and the life of your nation.” We feel privileged to have this remarkable man supporting our efforts in Malawi.