PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA – At a township clinic in South Africa, a small man with hunched shoulders stood in front of a HIV support meeting, and with an unfaltering voice, shared that he is HIV positive.
Unaffected by the stigma surrounding the HIV illness, Andrew had nothing but peace on his face as he talked about the impact of HIV in his life.
Diagnosed with HIV in 1991, an illness that attacks the body’s immune system, Andrew only began taking antiretroviral treatment (ART) in 2008.
ART is the most well known treatment for HIV that boosts the immune system, or the CD4+T cell count in a patient’s body, to help them fight off sickness.
“My first wife passed away with the kid, because she didn’t understand what is HIV and she was positive,” said Andrew.
Turning this grief-stricken past into hope for the future, Andrew now has motivation to help others accept their condition and live a full life with it.
“It’s not a death sentence to me,” he said.
With a brilliant smile, Andrew talked about meeting his current wife in 2009, and how he now has a partner to help him in teaching others about HIV.
Despite financial restrictions, with both Andrew and his wife being unemployed, he is determined to encourage people infected and affected by HIV.
Andrew said many people do not understand that with treatment, people who are HIV positive can live a long life, and so they see suicide as a better alternative. This is something he wants to prevent with the testimony of his life living with HIV.
“It’s not difficult to live with it, you can do like myself. You will live plenty years, because I’m living like a normal person,” Andrew said.
The kind of joy and hope for the future that Andrew has is something other South Africans are in desperate need of.
Though a virus can spread quickly, hope for a better future is much more contagious.