Johannesburg - He was deathly skinny and thought the end of his life was imminent.
Tshepo Ngoato had already lost his mother through an “unexplained” illness when he was nine, and at 14 – when he was told by Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital doctors in Joburg that not only did he have TB, but was HIV-positive – he was certain his life was over.
“The day I found out, I still cannot explain how I felt… when you find out something like that, you lose everything. You think of death… what your friends are going to say, how people will see you. For me, death was foremost in my mind,” he said.
Ngoato, now 21, has an undetectable viral load, meaning the amount of HIV in his blood is too low to be seen on a viral load test.
“Doctors assured me that I wasn’t about to die, and if I did die, it wouldn’t be because of HIV. I was put on ARV treatment immediately, but at that time, in 2005, the message was more about living and eating healthily. So my aunt, who I had started living with, made sure I did just that.”
Ngoato works for an online magazine that highlights how HIV-positive youths can live positively with HIV, as well as on the magazine’s End Stigma Campaign.
His colleague and friend, Mongezi Sosibo, 22, had to make drastic lifestyle changes after finding out he was HIV-positive in 2011.
“I used to be a naughty boy,” he said, smiling wryly.
“I loved partying, I loved girls and I wouldn’t say no to alcohol. I was the top pupil in my class, teachers loved me… and it all just got to my head.”
It was in his matric year that he noticed he had developed shingles on his body and realised something was amiss.
“I saw them while I was showering in boarding school… I called my mother and she said it could be one of two things – I could be bewitched or I had HIV. She didn’t believe much in witchcraft and told me to go to the clinic, but my stepfather advised that I should go to an inyanga (traditional healer) because he was sure I was bewitched,” Sosibo said.
On April 1 that year, Sosibo went to a clinic
. “I didn’t get any pre- or post-counselling… I think the nurses were just in a rush to go home. And so when my results came back positive, I thought it was an April Fool’s Day joke.”
It took Sosibo a year to accept and live openly with his status. Today his viral load is undetectable because he routinely takes his treatment and lives a healthier lifestyle.
According to the Human Sciences Research Council, 2 million of the 6.4 million (31.5 percent) HIV-infected people in South Africa are on antiretroviral treatment.
And while the number of HIV-infected people has risen from 10.6 percent in 2008 to 12.3 percent last year, people are living longer because of treatment.
While both young men are living openly with their status, they said stigma was still a huge barrier affecting young people with HIV.
Said Sosibo: “People still come to us saying they are afraid to disclose because of what others will think. But there’s strength in numbers… we can fight the stigma within us.
“If more people disclose their status, it would be a big step in tackling the stigma.”
On Friday July 26 , both men will be a part of a dialogue in Midrand which will be attended by 50 young people living with or affected by HIV. They will discuss the issues of HIV prevention, stigma and discrimination. - The Star