HIV/ AIDS has is an on-going health problem in South Africa which has the highest percentage of HIV-infected people world; 12% of its population are HIV positive.
Women aged 20 to 24 years old are the most affected, with approximately four in every five infected people falling in this age gap.
Nosipho Nkosi* is a 21 year old woman who living with HIV. She told PONTSHO PILANE about her life since contracting the virus.
When I was 20, I started feeling weak and slightly ill. I couldn’t do anything anymore, not even wash my own clothes. I had constant headaches and eventually I was bed-ridden, but my family and I still didn’t know what was wrong.
My mother is a nurse. I think she could see my symptoms but she was in denial and she didn’t say anything. I was admitted to hospital in January this year and I initially thought I had ulcers or something like that. Doctors knew what was wrong with me when they saw me, but I suppose they didn’t want to offend me by asking for an HIV test so they ran a test without my knowledge.
I remember them giving me a brown envelope that had the word “Confidential” written in big, bold letters across the front. I opened it, and there they were – my HIV test results. I had a nervous breakdown and had to be sedated. I later found out what the doctors did was wrong; I was supposed to have been asked for consent to be tested, and received counselling before and after having it.
I knew exactly who infected me. It was my ex-boyfriend. He was the only person I have ever had sex with and we did not always practice safe sex.
We started dating when I was in Grade 11 and broke up after I finished Grade 12. He was my first. We’d used condoms regularly. I can count the number of times we had not used a condom – it was two times. When I found out about my status, I called him and told him to go get tested. He was sort of cocky and clearly in denial. Maybe it is because he knew he was the one who gave me the disease. I really couldn’t be worried about him, I had to take care of myself.
When I got diagnosed with HIV, my CD4 count was below 250, which meant I was on my way to having full blown AIDS. I’m fortunate enough to have found a doctor who specialises in HIV, and he has given me the best treatment. In the beginning my viral load was very high – there were 15 million virus particles in a millilitre of my blood. Now it is lower than 15 virus particles. I am on anti-retroviral treatment and take just one pill a day now.
Being diagnosed with HIV has been the scariest and most life-changing experience of my life. I never thought I would be here. I wish I had listened to my parents when they told me to take care of myself, but at that age you don’t think you will get the disease. I was oblivious to taking precautions; getting condoms was his responsibility and when he didn’t have any, I didn’t object. Even the circumstances in which we started having sex were haphazard – we didn’t discuss it, it just happened. To me, having sex with him was a prerequisite for him to love me.
I haven’t dated since finding out about my status; I am not ready for that. It sometimes annoys me when a guy approaches me because of the fear of rejection once they find out. Only my immediate family and close friends know. I don’t want to deal with people assuming that I was sleeping around, I’m not ready for that.
I would like to be an activist one day, I have a friend who is, but I am still coming to terms with this myself before I can put myself out there. Stigma is more dangerous than the virus, the silence and shame is what kills people.
I want to have children one day and I have already asked my doctor about it. He says it is possible. That gives me peace.
Living with HIV has been such a journey for me. I have learnt to love and value myself, more than I did when I didn’t know my status.
If there’s one thing I could say to young people, especially high school girls, it is “Be sexually aware.” Know what you want and learn how to say no. Listen to your parents and also listen to your instincts.
* Name has been changed to protect privacy
– Featured image via Flickr