Born and living with HIV, a young lady's story

The first of December marks World AIDS Day annually and different countries celebrate the day differently. According to the Avert statistics, there is 13.3% adult HIV prevalence  (ages14-49).

Part of the prevalence age covers children who were born with the virus in or after the 1990s and are now in their late teens or early 20s . One of these children is Rudo *not her real name* who shared her story with Amakhosikazi Media.

"I was born in 1995 as an only child. My parents died of HIV related illnesses.  Dad was the first one to die and i only got to know about it because of his death certificate because mom could not bring herself to tell me. When I was in Grade  6 I had a lot of frequent illnesses and the doctors had to run a lot of tests on me and that is when I discovered my status,

"I cried a lot though i did not know the impact and the nurse in charge at the Surgery had to open up about her status to me, for me to understand. I started taking medication and I liked it because of the pink bottles which they came in,

"Two years down the line my mother died and I was now in form one. The packaging of the medication changed and I stopped taking the pills. At that time I was living with my 82 year old grandmother and she had no idea what I was doing. In 2009 my uncle came and asked for my health card and that is when he took me to a public hospital.

"At that time the nurses were rude to me and started scolding me for not taking my medication. That is when I thought of a plan, I would collect the pills and throw them away. I got to an extent where I would take the pills once in two months but no-one knew about it.

"In 2016 i met with people from an organization called AfricAID and they offered me a job as a volunteer peer supporter. I was working with kids helping them with acceptance,  support and adherence. At this point I started to reflect on my life. I was helping people do something that I couldn't do. I made a turnaround and started taking my medication properly,

"The journey has not been easy up to now. I can easily speak to young people like me who are living with HIV but it is a challenge when it comes to relationships. You may find a serious guy but he will leave the minute you disclose. If he accepts you as you are, you start asking yourself questions like; "What if he is lying? What if he just wants to use me?

"The other problem is taking meds during trips or if you are in a boarding school. Most students share accommodation and sometimes it is difficult to take medication. You can also go for a work trip and share a room with someone who doesn't know your status and end up skipping. 

"Many young women and men like me also face a lot of stigma and discrimination with some people calling us names. Some may even blame you for acquiring the virus at a young age. Even at the health centres some patients fail to understand how a 23 year old ended up with the virus.

"One of the most important things to help a person with HIV get through life is a lot of support. I had a lot of it from those relatives that understood my condition though some did not even want to see me. Support groups also helped a lot.

"The other thing is empowering the communities, most people think HIV is only sexually transmitted. They need to know that HIV is just a condition and if well managed we can live to a hundred. We do not need special treatment we are just like any other person. We must not be defined by our status." 

Rudo's story is common among adolescents living with HIV, with some  opting to hide their statuses  when dating and end up having unsafe sex with their partners who may not even want to go for testing.

This year's theme, "Know your HIV status" is a call for people to get tested as UNAIDS states that 9.4 million people currently do not know that they are living with HIV.