A story and message for everyone, but especially those who are hesitant about getting their vaccine.

Ashley Brownless is a very good friend of mine who i have known for more than 20 years now. He has written a pretty viral post for my blog before sharing some of his journey as a South African living with HIV AIDS, and he is back to share some more, but particularly how it relates to his feelings and reflections around the vaccine. This will likely blow you away so grab a hot drink and feel free to share this far and wide as we listen to Ashley Brownlee and why this is not his first pandemic:

2021 is proving to be a year of looking back, for various personal reasons, and for some unpacking; which is proving to be a painful experience, as the memories are still as fresh as if they were yesterday.

You see, this is not my first pandemic.

It is 40 years since the Centre for Disease Control, which is a governing medical body in the USA, recorded their first case of ARC; which went on to become what we now know as HIV/Aids. I commemorate the 30th anniversary of my HIV diagnosis this year, and I recently turned 50, which is something that seemed entirely impossible in 1991; which is the year I was infected.

I was initially given 18 months to live, but have been HIV positive for more years than I have not.

Now it may be tempting to draw direct comparisons between the Covid 19 pandemic and the AIDS pandemic, and there are many, but I will not be doing this; purely out of respect for those that died, and continue to die, from both these horrid viruses. It’s not a competition.

What I am able to do, with an open and honest heart, is speak of my experience in being a long-term HIV survivor; and how it has informed my decision to take a vaccine for covid 19.

Ashley Brownlee vaccinated

The Fear is Real

When it comes to getting the vaccine, I hope that my testament will help you make a decision for yourself, and will perhaps give you the courage to shake off the shackles of the slavery of fear, which is why you may be thinking that this is all about you; when it’s not.

The decision is yours, and yours alone, but you are not alone.

In my case, there are the millions of people who died from AIDS, who would have done anything for a cure, let alone a vaccine; for which there still is none.

Sometime in the late ’90s, my t-cells fell dramatically low, and my viral load started rising. Without enough t-cells, which are the warrior cells that fight off infection, I was losing my immune system; and I eventually slipped from being simply HIV positive, into the condition we know as full-blown AIDS.

I was crippled by the onslaught of opportunistic infections, which ranged from herpes blisters and shingles all over my body to runaway thrush in my mouth and throat. I weighed a little over 50kgs during this time, and there was very little the doctors could do to stop the progression of any of it.

It was the most horrific time of my life, as one by one, some of my closest friends started dying. My weeks were filled with devastating phone calls, heartbreaking hospice visits, and the shame of it all; which was exacerbated by an ineffectual government plan to stop the tide of infections and death.

The government at the time, the Mbeki government, was wading around with the AIDS denialists and recommending we all eat garlic and beetroot.

The tragedy of this, and it pains me to the core, is that we were starting to see hope. Great strides, and more than positive results, were being made in the use of Antiretrovirals; or ARV’s.

By this stage, with hardly an immune system left, I had no choice but to bombard my body with such an array of concoctions and tablets; that my bedside table looked like a pharmacy. I was on every available medical trial known, which was the only way I could afford any help, as an independent purchase of experimental ARVS, would have crippled my partner and me financially.

We’re talking thousands of Rands for treatment.

I explored every option, from AZT to Equimune therapy, but nothing came close to being without toxic side effects; until I stumbled across a trial from the Netherlands, which included a new active ingredient, and which was proving successful in building t-cells and stopping the surge of the virus within the body.

The trial required monthly visits to the doctor, where I would be subjected to a range of blood tests, in exchange for free meds. Within months I was feeling better, and by the end of the year, my opportunistic infections were almost non-existent; and aside from some initial lucid dreaming, there were no side effects.

The drugs were a major leap forward in the treatment of HIV/Aids, and the experimental trial is the reason I’m alive today. It was nothing short of a miracle.

Suddenly there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and there was a way out of the darkness of funerals and death, which had consumed us for so long; but I was lucky, as the impact of Mbeki’s AIDS denialism was catastrophic.

Studies have estimated that delays in making antiretroviral treatment available in South Africa, resulted in more than 300,000 avoidable deaths.

Today, a few weeks after my 50th Birthday, and 30 years since my diagnosis; I am grateful to be alive.

Ashley Brownlee story

A Second Pandemic

But while I have a thriving t-cell count, and my viral load is undetectable, another pandemic sweeps through the world.

The sadness, however, is that the AIDS pandemic galvanised a community, creating a powerful political voice; while the COVID pandemic has brought wide-scale divisiveness.

I wish it were not so, but this is not my first pandemic, so I’d like to share with you a terrible truth:

That those that swam in the quagmire of beetroot and garlic, who shouted at the moon and waved sticks at the trees, are all dead; while I stand here alive.

I take my ARV’s for those that were denied the help and treatment they needed, and for those that were blinded by superstition and ignorance, and I take them religiously. I do this, knowing full well the long-term side effects of liver damage and decreased bone density, and the early onset of diseases associated with geriatric patients.

I close my eyes, and take my medication, and think of the friends I’ve lost; the gift of life they’ve given me.

That is why I have registered for an appointment for the covid 19 vaccine, and why I will be there on the day, at my allotted time; and when I’m getting the jab in my arm, I will think of all of those who would have done anything to be in my place.

If there had been more attention, more compassion, and more science, we would potentially have saved millions of lives during the AIDS pandemic, and my friends would have still been here.

But people turned away then, horrified and afraid, unable to reach out and hold a dying person’s hand; which is why this opportunity to turn the tide on covid is so important, and why it’s your responsibility to open your heart.

To give love, and to show love, and to share your spirit, and to do so as a revolutionary act of selflessness, is all in your hands.

Get out of your head, and into your heart!

By registering for the vaccine, by being present on the day, and by being mindful of the moment, we are speaking for those whose lives have been snatched from us. We are literally doing everything we can, all that we presently can, as we have no other viable alternative; so that nobody’s death will have been in vain.

We are both saving the lives of future dreamers while speaking the truth of the wisdom of ages. We are being responsible for the legacy of those we loved and lost; and even though we cannot replace them, in this simple courageous act, we walk their dreams back to life.

So I will stand in the queue, and I will wait my turn, and I will close my eyes when the time comes, and I will think of the dreams they had because this is not about me, and it’s not about you!

ashley vaccine

If you missed Ashley’s story about living with HIV/Aids, which touched and impacted so many people, give it a read over here.