HIV/Aids

21 July 2016

Why a young student needs to keep her HIV status a secret

During the five day countdown to the World Aids Conference, a young woman explained why she did not want to embarrass her grandmother with her HIV status.

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Tshidi is a 21 year-old student who has been living with HIV since she was diagnosed positive at the age of 17. She is terrified of her family knowing her status as she believes they will see her as “a dying person” and stop paying for her education.

Not a dying person!

“I have so many reasons to keep this a secret. But I have to. Maybe that will change when I have to start treatment.”

Tshidi, who spoke to Our Health during the five day countdown to the World Aids Conference, said she did not want to embarrass her grandmother with her HIV status.

“I am scared she will collapse. She is the only person I have in my life. My mom passed away when I was 10 years old, and it looked like she was suffering from Aids-related sicknesses. My grandmother would not do well if she had to now also lose a (potential) university graduate,” Tshidi said.

Read: 5 things you should know about PrEP

“My grandmother is the only person I have to rely on. If she finds out about my HIV status, I think she will stop paying for studies, because she will think it is a waste of time to invest in education for a dying person.

“After my HIV testing was done, I started having blood tests to check my cd4 count, which is still about 650. And so I have decided to keep this secret to myself.”

“I go for regular check-ups, and according to the sister in charge at Seodin Wellness Clinic, I am still doing very well and have responded positively to multivitamins,” Tshidi said.

The young woman is currently doing her N4 in electrical engineering at Kathu College in the Northern Cape. Her grandmother has chosen to invest in her future because – among all the grandchildren – Tshidi is the one who has made her most proud, and who has been doing well in class and taking her education seriously.

Dating and making friends in the midst of HIV

“This is the most challenging problem I have ever come across. Sometimes I don’t know when is the right time to tell my boyfriend. I once told my friend about my status, and the response was not what I expected. She rejected me. 

“My current relationship status is good, and my boyfriend is understanding and supportive although sometimes the life of condom use is frustrating us. But I told him we should not stop using condoms because we don’t want to re-infect each other,” Tshidi said, as she remains unsure of her boyfriend’s HIV status.

Read: Stigma and shame still shrouds HIV amongst key populations

Tshidi plans to avoid going on to ARV treatment for as long as possible.

“I will take my time and be ready, because it is a commitment for the rest of my life.”

Coping skills

She said: “Sometimes it is hard, but sometimes I just live a normal life. What breaks my heart is my grandmother. Every time when I look at her, I know I am not ready to tell her this bad news. Maybe I will tell her when I have to start treatment, because definitely I will need her support.”

Future life

Tshidi holds onto the fact that she is a young women who has a full life ahead of her. She has dreams for the future.

“There is still life ahead of me, like completing my studies, being employed, getting married and having kids. I am thankful our government has introduced so many programmes within the HIV field, offering prevention, care and support.

“I am not bothered by how I will tell my granny when I start treatment. I will cross that bridge when I get there. For now I would like to encourage other young people like myself to get tested and treated for HIV, because there is more to life than stressing about what you don’t know.”

Read more:

Diagnosing HIV/Aids

Risk factors for HIV infection

Prevention of HIV infection

Health-e News is South Africa’s award-winning dedicated health news service producing news and in-depth analysis for the country’s print and television media.

 

Ask the Expert

HIV/Aids expert

Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria before working for an HIV/AIDS NPO in Soweto for many years. She was named one of the Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans in 2012.

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