Know your HIV status Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency(ANA)

It has  been 16 years since Andile Gidana has been diagnosed with HIV. 

He says he has been able to live life to the fullest, with no regrets or limitations. 

However, he says coming out in the previous years was harder than today. 

“When I was diagnosed, I started thinking to myself that sooner or later I would have to tell my family about my status. It was like a second coming-out, first being gay, and now living with HIV.”

“My mom and I are very close, and I used to visit her at work on weekends. After my HIV diagnosis, it was difficult for me to look her in the eye — I felt like I was living a lie because she didn’t know.”

“To my surprise, she was as strong as ever. She told me that she loves me for who I am and HIV is just like any other disease. She promised to give me all the support I need. My family accepted me, too,” said Gidana.

Today, we will commemorate World AIDS Day, a day to raise awareness about the illness. 

The theme of this year is communities make the difference. Which Gidana says is crucial to make things better for anyone living with HIV/AIDS 

With 36.7 million HIV/AIDS positive individuals globally in 2016 and close to 1 in every 25 adults being HIV positive in sub-Saharan Africa, the prevalence of the disease has given rise to a worldwide race to cure it. 

Dr Marion Morkel, Chief Medical Officer at Sanlam, says that we’re closer to a cure than ever before with innovations like an HIV vaccine and Crispr/Cas9 gene editing that allows scientists to successfully ‘clip’ away the virus from cell DNA in mice. A world without AIDS may soon be in sight, but for now, there are plenty of ways to manage the illness.  

Urvashi Ramjee, Head of Claims Management at Old Mutual Group Assurance says the improved rollout of ARVs in both the public and private sector hospitals and clinics has resulted in the elimination of waiting lists for ARVs.

“In the past, individuals would have to wait for their immune system to show symptoms before receiving access to ARVs, whereas today, ARVs are administered to patients much sooner, meaning treatment is starting earlier and individuals are less impacted by the disease’s symptoms.”

For HIV positive individuals, managing the disease has also become less difficult and can be easier to manage than diabetes, says Ramjee. 

“ARVs are now compressed into one daily tablet while someone with diabetes is required to change their lifestyle to manage the disease. If an HIV individual is consistent and compliant with his/her treatment schedule, the statistics show that these patients can remain productive and healthy in the work-place, ” says Ramjee.