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By MAIKELI SERU
Minister for Education, Filipe Bole has commended the work of HIV/AIDS awareness advocate Joana Qereqeretabua.
Mrs Qereqeretabua was a key facilitator at a workshop that involved students from Ba Muslim College, Lautoka Central College, Kamil Muslim College, Natabua High School, Ba Methodist High School, Xavier College, Nadi College, Drasa Secondary School and Jasper Williams High School.
The students heard firsthand from Mrs Qereqeretabua who told the students to make the right decision for their future and they should stay away from pre-marital sex, drug use and abuse.
The workshop was sponsored by the Ministry of Education’s National Substance Abuse Advisory Council (NSAAC).
“Not everyone has the courage to stand up publicly and share such experiences. The experience shared is valuable and students have a lot to learn from it,” Mr Bole said.
The NSAAC is conducting an awareness workshop for students in the division this week.
“When I was told to take a HIV test for the first time in 2007, I refused because I knew there was no way on earth that I had the killer disease,” Ms Qereqeretabua told the 55 students from around Lautoka, Ba and Nadi.
She said five years ago she was medically advised that she had HIV.
“The fact of living with the disease at first was very uncomfortable.”
Doctors told her that she had two months to two years to live.
She was scared. She did not tell her family, her friends and her workmates because of the fear of being neglected, being alienated and the fear of losing her job.
Ms Qereqeretabua said people took time to accept and understand that she was living with HIV.
She was counselled for three months because her life had been affected emotionally, socially and mentally.
“As students, I tell you the importance of choice so that you have no regrets in the future. I would prefer abstinence. It is much better and much safer. As teenagers we are pressured to go out clubbing and drinking. Beware, this can lead to sexually-related activities and increases the risk of sexually transmitted diseases like HIV.”
She called on people to be kind to people living with HIV.
“We are all human beings and need to be treated equally and respectfully,” she said.