Cape Town. 251110. A packet of TIK that is sold for R 10 and a LOLLIE that can be easily bought in the Belhar area. Picture Leon Lestrade. Story Warda Meyer. Belhar Drugs

Heroin addict, cocaine addict, crystal methamphetamine (tik) addict, drug dealer, teenage prostitute, porn actor, HIV-positive by 15, TV star. You name it, Zack Smit has pretty much been there, done that.

Meeting Smit in Cape Town’s Sea Point, one is immediately struck by his amazing physique… bulging muscles and a six-pack that you normally see on airbrushed models in glossy magazines. But Smit is the real thing.

“I was on a road to disaster. I have been judged and rejected. I did everything my way, and it all ended up being a disaster. Ending up at the (Ivan Toms) clinic has saved me, no doubt,” says Smit.

Smit is one of thousands of men who have accessed specialist healthcare at the Health4Men’s Ivan Toms Centre for Men’s Health, a clinic in Woodstock, Cape Town.

“Health4Men has made my life so much easier. They get me, my doctor Kevin gets me. He listens to me, he trusts me and he doesn’t judge me. Going to a public clinic and having to deal with the stigma, the judgement, sitting among such very sick people who are coughing, having to deal with doctors and nurses who hold it against you that you have had unprotected sex or used drugs,” says Smit, shaking his head.

“Sitting in those queues at the clinics and hospitals, it doesn’t make you feel very proud of what you have or who you are,” he adds.

Smit, who is on his third line of antiretroviral drugs, having failed to adhere to his lifesaving medication in the past, says he has no doubt that he would have been dead if he had not had access to this specialist service.

Smit, who has been on antiretrovirals for five years, never used condoms when he started working as a “rent boy” at the age of 15. “There were lots of married men, and using a condom was simply not part of it,” he recalls.

Smit says he knew very soon that something was wrong. “But I was in denial when I found out I was HIV-positive, ending up very ill.”

“Having to then access the health system and tell a doctor you have had anal sex with another man, that’s not easy.

“They also declined me three times for antiretrovirals because of my drug abuse past, I had to beg and eventually they allowed me,” says Smit.

“Look, if the Ivan Toms clinic closed down tomorrow and we had to go back to the mainstream health services, I probably wouldn’t go back. What we get there, you won’t get anywhere else.

“It’s clean, it’s brilliant and we receive a service from brilliant specialists.

“They offer services that are targeted at what our needs are, whether it’s our physical health or our mental health,” says Smit.

Smit’s viral load is currently undetectable and his CD4 count is around 650.

“I deserve a healthy life,” he smiles. – Health-e News Service