Meet the 16-year-old girl who wants to change South Africa as a young person living positively with HIV.
A study by Healthlink.org.za conducted in 2010, revealed that KwaZulu-Natal, one of South Africa’s largest provinces, had the highest HIV/AIDS infection rate. Thirty-nine percent of pregnant women were affected by the pandemic.
With about 9.9 million inhabitants who are HIV-positive in the province, the most burdened townships included Umlazi, Clermont, Osizweni, and Imbali. Simply, the impoverished, destitute and mostly unemployed were the hardest hit. The ripple effect – more young, school learners were likely to drop out of school to run and maintain households or look after sick family members.
The City Press in 2010 chronicled the journey of a young HIV-positive girl who was shunned by her community. : Titled “Girl ‘back from the dead”, one of the extracts that stood out reads “Gogo Lina Nzima, 67*, lost her daughter to an Aids-related illness in 2000. The grieving woman was then living alone in a shack in Umlazi’s J-Section. As she knocked on the doors of family and friends to scrape together money for the burial, she felt the burning gaze of the neighbours on her.
“Gogo Nzima knew they were whispering about what had killed her daughter. Then her three-year-old granddaughter, Phumzile* started getting sick.”
The story reminded me of a 16-year-old girl from the same township but a different section (P Section) who I spoke to over the telephone. Her name is Nokulunga Hlengwe, a grade 10 learner living with HIV. I asked her, what got her to get tested for the virus. She simply replied “because I was sick”.
Our conversation continued …
Tshepo Mosokotso (TM): Are you open about your status and how do people react when you tell them?
Nokulunga Hlengwe (NH): Yes, I am open about my status, other people are negative and other people are positive… but the only people I need is my family’s support.
TM: Why is it important for people and organisations to continue donating to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation?
NH: Ithemba Labantu saved my life and will save other people’s lives. It gave me life and it still does. There is love from the social workers, nurses and counsellors.
TM: There is a misconception that antiretroviral drugs are poison. What do you have to say to people who believe this to be true?
NH: Lack of information about HIV and ARV’s
TM: How much did you know about HIV/AIDS before you were diagnosed?
NH: I knew less but now I am knowledgeable about the virus
TM: What advice do you have for youth who have been diagnosed as HIV positive?
NH: They must love themselves, condomise. Love people who are HIV positive, be positive in life, always take your treatment, attend support group as I am doing so, I am attending Ithemba Labantu because it’s helping me.
TM: Are there facilities in your area where you can talk to someone when you need guidance?
NH: Yes, It’s Ithemba Labantu and other organisations
TM: What do you want people to know about you?
NH: I am strong, I love myself. I am the HIV/Aids Ambassador. I am healthy and I am positive
TM: What are your goals in life?
NH: To be a living testimony, an ambassador. I want to be a tour guide. I want to help people who are HIV positive. I love myself. I want to change South Africa to be a respectful country. To teach more people on what HIV is all about, I want to change people’s thinking
Note: Ithemba Labantu is a private clinic based in various parts of Kwazulu Natal and the Eastern Cape and it’s funded by the US-based Aids Healthcare Foundation with the accreditation from the Department of Health to provide testing, HIV counselling, education, income generation projects, leisure activities and nutrition. Patients who come to Ithemba Labantu are put into treatment within two weeks of being tested positive.
(*) Not their real names.