Updated 25 June 2014

Nokhwezi on stigma and discrimination

Initially I experienced a lot of stigma and discrimination. Nobody wanted to come to my house, and I was ostracised.


Initially I experienced a lot of stigma and discrimination. Nobody wanted to come to my house, and I was ostracised. I asked myself, 'What's wrong? What have I done to deserve such treatment from people I have trusted for such a long time?'

Photo by Samantha Reinders

In the township, I knew that people were talking – they would be chatting and then the minute I got closer they would go quiet. When I went past, they would start talking again. It was hard losing friends who didn't want to be associated with me anymore. At the time I was very angry. But now I know that they didn't know enough about HIV.

I was lucky because the nurses at the closest clinic were very supportive, not only to me, but also to my mother. Finding a support network for your family and friends is important: it's not only you who needs counselling and support, but also people around you. They're going through a lot, too.

People often internalise stigma because they assume that no one will accept them now that they have HIV. Although it can be hard, it's important for you to accept your status so that you can deal with the discrimination directed at you by others.

It is vital for people with HIV to be in contact with others who are living with the virus, for example by joining a support group or attending group counselling sessions. This is important so that you can empower yourself to deal with stigma and discrimination in a way that will not affect your health. It also gives some comfort to know that you are not the only one who is dealing with an infection, and to have a network of connections to call on when you need support. The more you talk about the virus, the more you are able to accept your status, live your life and manage your health as you would with any other chronic illness.

TAC has been important to me. Engaging with the politics of the world and specifically the issues of HIV and TB has enabled me to push my ambitions higher and to educate people who feel that they are at their last point in life. It helps me to give hope.

Article reproduced courtesy of Equal Treatment – the HIV, TB and human rights magazine of the Treatment Action Campaign.



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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria in 2005. She is a patients' rights activist and loves using social media to teach about HIV. She is in private practice in Johannesburg.

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