'Live positively': Togo's 'Tino' sets example for HIV/AIDS

November 30, 2015

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.

"I will not succumb to this infection but rather I will die with it. I am resolved to bear the heavy burden," he told AFP.

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 the . But, he says, none of that matters in a region where people with HIV are often shunned and access to the right drugs is limited, through supply and cost.

"The important thing now is to live positively with this infection," said the 44-year-old.

Shock diagnosis

Dokla tested positive for HIV in 1999 after a bout of serious pneumonia, which saw him spend three months in hospital.

"I had only flesh and bone left after losing close to half of my normal weight of 75 kilograms (165 pounds, 11 stone 8 pounds)," he said.

"One day, I decided to go for an HIV test. When the nurse told me of my status, I let out a long sigh and we stared at each other for some seconds because at that time AIDS was synonymous to a death sentence, with drugs being scarce and very expensive.

"My mother cried her heart out when I broke the bad news to her. But it was a big relief for me that I knew what was going to make life difficult for me."

For two months in 2000, Dokla was treated in a Paris hospital. He was discharged—and determined to survive.

"It was this treatment that saved me. I refused to die to enable me commit myself the fight against this damned virus," he added.

Since then, he has become a powerful speaker at seminars and awareness campaigns and also heads an agency supporting people living with HIV/AIDS.

Changing attitudes

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.

Dokla, or "Tino" to his friends, however, knows that overcoming social attitudes is also part of the battle.

"I do not undergo special treatment apart from my tablets, which I take every day before I go to bed," he explained.

"I travelled a lot for big conferences in the United States, France, Mexico, Belgium, Italy, Spain, etc. In Africa, I have been to some 30 countries and in my native Togo, I have travelled to all the provinces."

'The only battle in my life'

Eight years ago, Dokla mobilised 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.

"It is the only battle in my life to assist other people not to catch this infection. I give a meaning to my existence each time I give testimony and sensitise ignorant youths on the virus," he said.

"Others living with HIV/AIDS do not have the courage and are hiding for fear of being stigmatised."

"Tino plays a major role in taking care of living with AIDS in Togo. He knows our problems and he does not hesitate to defend our interests at major events," said Amoussou, who has been undergoing anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment in the past nine years.

"He is an indefatigable fighter. Each time I see him in public, my hope is boosted," said Afiavi, a former sex worker who contracted HIV six years ago.

Explore further: Adolescent deaths from AIDS tripled since 2000: UNICEF

Related Stories

Adolescent deaths from AIDS tripled since 2000: UNICEF

November 27, 2015
The number of adolescents dying from AIDS has tripled over the last 15 years, most of them having acquired the disease when they were infants, according to figures released Friday by UNICEF.

New research reveals millions of those infected with HIV have never been diagnosed due to the fear of being tested

November 17, 2015
Academics from Royal Holloway, University of London, have carried out the largest global review of psychological barriers behind HIV testing and the factors that may influence people's decision to be tested. 

Alcoholism drug may help design HIV cure, study says

November 17, 2015
A treatment for alcoholism can reactivate dormant HIV, potentially allowing other drugs to spot and kill the virus hiding out in human immune cells, researchers said Tuesday.

Doubling numbers on HIV drugs could 'break' epidemic: UN (Update)

November 24, 2015
The UN on Tuesday urged countries to "break the AIDS epidemic" by doubling the number of people receiving HIV treatment within the next five years.

A quarter of SAfrica's HIV carriers are young women

December 1, 2014
About one quarter of South Africans newly infected by HIV are girls and women between the ages of 15 and 24, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said Monday.

Zimbabweans get 100 million condoms in HIV battle

May 26, 2015
More than 100 million condoms were distributed in Zimbabwe last year, a huge increase on previous years, indicating that more people were practising safe sex in the battle against HIV, authorities said Tuesday.

Recommended for you

Researchers find new way to defeat HIV latency

March 8, 2018
HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, has a secret life. Though anti-retroviral therapy can reduce its numbers, the virus can hide and avoid both treatments and the body's immune response.

Broadly neutralizing antibody treatment may target viral reservoir in monkeys

March 5, 2018
After receiving a course of antiretroviral therapy for their HIV-like infection, approximately half of a group of monkeys infused with a broadly neutralizing antibody to HIV combined with an immune stimulatory compound suppressed ...

HIV begins to yield secrets of how it hides in cells

March 2, 2018
UC San Francisco scientists have uncovered new mechanisms by which HIV hides in infected cells, resting in a latent state that evades the body's immune system and prevents antiviral drugs from flushing it out.

HIV exports viral protein in cellular packages

February 15, 2018
HIV may be able to affect cells it can't directly infect by packaging a key protein within the host's cellular mail and sending it out into the body, according to a new study out of a University of North Carolina Lineberger ...

Can gene therapy be harnessed to fight the AIDS virus?

February 13, 2018
For more than a decade, the strongest AIDS drugs could not fully control Matt Chappell's HIV infection. Now his body controls it by itself, and researchers are trying to perfect the gene editing that made this possible.

Big data methods applied to the fitness landscape of the HIV envelope protein

February 7, 2018
Despite significant advances in medicine, there is still no effective vaccine for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), although recent hope has emerged through the discovery of antibodies capable of neutralizing diverse ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.