23 year old Lindiwe has been living with HIV since age six.
As a young girl she faced difficulties while interacting with other kids at school due to stigma.
“People would say to me, ‘No don’t eat with us, don’t touch us, you’re positive – don’t sit next to us, you’ve been sharing the same spoon with us!’ all those things,” Lindiwe explained.
22 year old Clementel’s story is no different. She’s faced an uphill battle in her fight against the disease due to the stigma associated with it.
“I thought everyone could see that I was HIV-positive and every time I would bump into someone and they would ask, ‘where are you going every day?’ I would respond by saying, ‘No, I’m just going shopping.’ It was hard, however, after that experience, I realized that this disease is common and we were also taught about it at school. Since then I noticed changes and that’s when I became free and I ended up finding a best friend and I told her about my HIV status and she supported me,” she said.
HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women between the ages 15 and 24 are four times higher than men of the same age group despite various campaigns to prevent infection.
While much progress has been made against HIV over the past 15 years, the number of new infections among adults annually has remained at an estimated 1.9 million since 2010.
An HIV and AIDS education and information group says poverty, low social status and gender-based violence account for the high infection rates.
Dr. Ramneek Ahluwalia, Director and Head of the Higher Education HIV/AIDS programme in South Africa said,
“We have to find more innovative ways of de stigmatizing the disease. So this is one way; of bringing the test closer to the community, not forcing them to go and stand in the long queue where the ARV’s (antiretroviral drugs) are, long queues where HIV is, do you understand me? So you can label to subtly calm down the word, ‘HIV’ from the lives of our people”.
To fight stigma and give HIV positive persons the support they need to fight the disease, the South African government launched a three-year campaign earlier this year known as “She Conquers”.
The campaign, which is inspired by HIV positive women who rise above and conquer various HIV- related challenges, is aimed at raising awareness and an attempt to realize the vision of eliminating new infections by 2020.