December 30, 2023

It was in the year 2006 when someone very close to me had gotten sick. While the medical diagnosis was Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), there were spiritual explanations for the sickness. One such explanation was witchcraft. As an African and Nigerian, I am well-versed in narratives around religion and culture.

Due to the spiritual connotations of this disease, she was taken to a village and kept in an unventilated room for several weeks. There, she was given different types of traditional medicines with the aim of reversing the perceived spiritual attack. Not long, Tuberculosis (TB) set in and her health took a turn for the worse…a turn that would eventually end her life.

The day the traditional medicine man supposedly ‘discharged’ her, she was immediately admitted into a hospital, but she continued to further deteriorate. The disease had advanced, and nothing could undo the damage caused by months of isolation and herbal concoctions.

Indeed, this death was painful and unfortunate, but it was to become a motivation for my growth.

Fast forward to 2011, I began a six-month internship as part of my microbiology undergraduate training. Driven by the loss I suffered in 2006, I decided to take up my internship in a research institute which managed the conditions of People Living with HIV (PLHIV) and conducted clinical trials to ascertain the efficacy and safety of potential antiretroviral drugs. I became exposed to conducting tests such as CD4 counts, Full Blood Counts, Liver Function Tests, etc. I was deeply passionate about my internship because I believed my close family members that I lost would have still been alive if they had gotten medical treatment. This pain became my driving force in the field of HIV research.

AAP conducting a Liver function test for PLHIVs in 2011 as an intern in a research institute

After my internship and graduation from the university, I worked as a care and support HIV/AIDS officer on a USAID-funded project. Later on, I was awarded the Commonwealth Shared Scholarship to undertake an MSc in Public Health in the UK. My thesis explored “traditional and cultural beliefs about the cause of HIV”. I made certain to keep my research within the field of HIV. Upon completion, I returned to Nigeria and took up another job.

When I decided to embark on a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), I knew such journey towards creating an intellectual masterpiece had to be in the field of HIV. I developed a research proposal and fortunately, I got awarded a scholarship for it and traveled to Australia.

While this story may seem to have many take-home messages, the most important for me is the ability to turn pain into the motivation that shapes one’s professional and even personal growth. Although I am still studying, I am very optimistic that my research will positively impact lives in the near future.

Recently, I became friends with a medical doctor who lost his sight in 2008. Despite such a devastating experience, he has gone on to achieve so much in life. He is currently undertaking a PhD in Victoria, Australia. He has published many academic articles with a focus on visual impairment. Isn’t that amazing? What a legend he is!

Are you suffering any loss now?

Have you suffered a loss before?

Maybe this is a call to look on the brighter side and transform the pain into a force for good.

Although I suffered a horrendous loss, it would go on to shape my academic and professional paths.

My message is simple guys: “Pains and setbacks should motivate you. Working on these motivations can change you into a human that you and the world will be very proud of”

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