I am a 37 year old mother of two boys. I became involved with HIV and AIDS advocacy after losing my child to AIDS in 2000.
In May 1999 my newly born baby was desperately ill with several diseases and I agreed that the baby be tested for HIV. The test was positive and I had to face the terrible reality that I infected my baby. My partner also tested HIV positive. My baby died 9 months later and the baby’s father committed suicide 8 months after my baby’s death. I had to deal with the guilt of infecting my baby, the sorrow of my great loss, the fear of having been given the “death sentence” as well as the fact that I was a single mother to a then 7-year-old son (not HIV positive) who needed me more than ever. During this time I discovered my purpose in life – to fight back and save as many babies by sharing my story to as many people as possible. Before this, I had to find healing for my soul and gain inner strength before I could face life outside. I was able to find courage and healing by attending a support group, sharing and motivating others.
People like Zackie Achmat (HIV infected since 1992) David Patient (HIV infected since 1983) and Justice Edwin Cameron (a judge who discovered his HIV positive status is 1986) became my mentors in life to stay positive and proactive. The book “Witness to Aids” – written by Justice Edwin Cameroon is a great inspiration to me and I recommend it for everyone to read.
I became a health promoter and worked with large corporations to encourage employees to get tested and set up support groups. I know, from experience, that joining a support group not only helps in accepting your HIV status, but teaches you how your body can beat HIV.
I have worked as a health promoter for the University of Western Cape since 2002 and set up the support group for HIV infected students. I also organised awareness campaigns on campus and spoke openly about positive living both on and off campus. I am currently working as a Treatment Literacy Trainer for Community Health Media Trust. I have extensive experience in rolling out HIV/AIDS Programme Project Management and, as a member of Treatment Action Campaign, I am also involved in community work. As a person living with HIV it is important for me to find out about everything regarding HIV. I have worked with the Treatment Action Campaign’s (TAC) Mother to Child Transmission Programme and was a plaintiff in the lawsuit for the South African government to provide Nevirapine to pregnant HIV positive women. I was also involved in the lawsuit that resulted in the government agreeing to provide free antiretroviral therapy to those infected with HIV.
My moment in the spotlight came when I flew to Germany to accept the “MTV Free Your Mind” award on behalf of the TAC. I have featured in the Siyayinqoba! educational programme on SABC since 2000 and was also involved in the documentary Why Must I Die which was screened in seven countries around the world, including South Africa, on the World AIDS Day 2005. (Visit www.madmundo.tv for more on the documentary). I got a chance to have a one on one interview with Kofi Annan! In November 2005, I took part and represented South Africa in the video conference organized by World Bank, with representatives from around the globe discussing how to bridge the information divide in a global awareness campaign.
In South Africa today there are two types of people, those infected and those who are affected by HIV/AIDS. The challenge of HIV starts with individuals, therefore success with any intervention begins when individuals realise that we are all affected. We all need to take ownership of the challenge of HIV/AIDS. By doing this we become empowered to be able to help ourselves, a loved one, a colleague and even an acquaintance.
This epidemic seeks to undermine efforts made by South Africans to grow and strengthen our economy. The direct result of this is skills erosion and decreased productivity, which, if left unattended will have a negative impact on the bottom line results and survival of businesses and the country. The cost of doing nothing is very, very high!
Research has revealed that Awareness campaigns, coupled with Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT), have resulted in mere 35% – 45% participants wanting to know their HIV status. The main reason for this low uptake is that HIV has largely been portrayed as a “death sentence”. Fear and stigma are a major hindrance to any intervention.
What matters most to me is being able to touch someone’s life, light it up and leave them feeling alive and filled with so much hope and determination to fight for their lives!
My core concern therefore(when coaching people who seek my advice on positive living) is to offer my them a liberating experience with simple, practical yet highly effective presentations that seek to inform, infuse hope and challenge them to live fully and take control of their own lives. As a result, a very large number of participants realise that to take control of one’s life with regards to HIV/AIDS starts with knowing one’s HIV status!