Nothing describes courage quite like accepting your HIV status. However, it becomes even more difficult when you have to disclose your status to your loved ones. The fear of not knowing what their reaction is going to be makes it more difficult. Fortunately for 33-year-old Pholokgolo Ramothwala, the decision to disclose his status to his 13-year-old son was the best thing he could have ever done for both of them.
Pholokgolo didn’t know what to expect when he told his son that he was HIV positive. He expected the worst, but was surprised by his son’s reaction. His son didn’t believe him at first. He decided to go and ask his HIV-negative mother whether it was true. His mother confirmed it.
“I was very open about it. I didn’t want him to hear it from other people because they would distort the truth. I sat him down and asked him questions about HIV and AIDS. We spoke about his knowledge on the subject. A day later, he came to me and told me that he knew all about HIV and that I was not going to die. He was worried that he was going to be teased at school because I am HIV positive.”
Pholokgolo was diagonised with HIV when he was only 19 years old. “I was a student, doing my post grad in media studies. One day, I decided to go for an HIV test. I was confident that I was HIV negative because I was in a stable relationship. But the results came back positive.”
Pholokgolo says that at first, he wanted to quit school. “I thought about my dreams; I had high hopes for myself. But I was scared and I thought that was going to be the end of me,” he says. However, he managed to pick himself up and come to terms with his HIV status.
As Pholokgolo was studying media studies, he decided to use that as a way to find out more about his illness. “I did my research on HIV and AIDS, and began to understand what it was. I was happy to find out that it was something that was not going to kill me.”
He decided to continue living his life and to not let HIV get in the way. “I was only 19 years old and I still wanted to have fun. I partied hard and forgot that I had HIV,” says Pholokgolo. However, when he turned 23, he realised that partying and drinking alcohol was affecting his health. Pholokgolo speaks fondly of his son, who gave him the courage to change his lifestyle. “My son is one of the people who helped me to stop drinking,” he laughs.
It was during his early twenties that Pholokgolo decided to disclose his HIV status. He says it took him nearly a year to tell people because he was not ready.
“There are benefits in disclosing your status because some things change and you get help. I started reading magazines and anything related to HIV/AIDS. I also visited organisations that dealt with the virus.”
Pholokgolo ended up working for the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) as a co-ordinator and Soul City as partnerships manager. He is now running his own business, focusing on the wellness of people infected with HIV. It’s been 13 years since he started educating people about HIV and he says he will continue doing so. “I can go for weeks without thinking about the virus. It’s only when I start getting sick that I think about it. It’s a condition that I can manage,” he says.
Although he has never been seriously ill, the doctors advised him to start taking ARVs because his CD4 count was 300. “My life has changed since I’ve started taking ARVs. I have to sleep early because of the medication. I’m also more conscious of what I eat and drink. If you have HIV, you must never allow yourself to get sick because you can do something about it,” he concludes.