Augustin Dokla is arguably Togo’s most famous person with HIV, having lived with the virus against the odds since 1999. Sixteen years later, he’s still fighting for the rights of those infected. Among friends at Espoir-Vie, the West African nation’s largest non-governmental association for people living with HIV, Dokla exudes optimism.
He’s still unsure how he contracted the virus. But, he says, none of that matter in a region where people with HIV are often shunned and access to the right drugs is limited, through supply and cost.
“I will not succumb to this infection but rather I will die with it. I am resolved to bear the heavy burden,” he said “The important thing now is to live positively with this infection,” said the 44-year-old.
Dokla tested positive for HIV in 1999 after a bout of serious pneumonia, which saw him spend three months in hospital. For two months in 2000, Dokla was treated in a Paris hospital. He was discharged — and determined to survive. Since then, he has become a powerful speaker at seminars and awareness campaigns and also heads an agency supporting people living with HIV/AIDS.
Togo once had the third-highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection in West Africa. A transient population and low spending on healthcare was blamed. In 2014, 2.5 percent or 110,000 of Togo’s 7.5 million people had HIV, according to UNAIDS and Togo’s national committee on the virus.
AIDS-related deaths have declined in recent years from 10,330 in 2009 to 6,641 last year, in part due to vigorous campaigning from charities such as Dokla’s. At the same time, the number of people living with HIV/AIDS taking anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs seen as key to suppressing the virus and preventing new infections has gone from 16,225 to 37,511 in the same period.
Eight years ago, Dokla mobilized more than 500 people with HIV for a protest march to denounce a lack of ARV drugs and is a regular feature on the public speaking circuit. According to him, he had travelled to big conferences held in some 30 conferences all over the world and has been in every province in Togo speaking on HIV/AIDS.