Why do we have a fear of discussing topics that should not be swept aside?

Is it because we are scared someone will think we have ‘that disease’?

Or….are we are not sufficiently informed, (not even a little bit) and don’t want to be perceived to be ignorant?

Whatever your reason, it is in your family, friends, associates and colleagues best interest to talk about these ‘unmentionable’ matters as it can enlighten and prevent incorrect information being shared. Don’t go searching ‘Dr Google’, rather ask someone in the know and then share the information garnered from them.

If you think talking about Cancer or the big ‘C’, as it was referred to in whispered tones way back when, is a major no-no, try getting people to talk about HIV and AIDS!

Now that I have mentioned Cancer, can you imagine being diagnosed with HIV in 2004 and diagnosed with AIDS, four years later?

Between 2004 and 2008, amid being diagnosed HIV positive, I was also afflicted with pneumonia, shingles, (Four bouts in a year, extremely painful) two strokes in 2005 and 2006 respectively, which led to being in a coma for two weeks each time, TB Meningitis and Stage 3 Cancer, (Angioimmunoblastic lymphadenopathy).

Shew you say? Try hiding it that from friends and family out of fear of rejection and judgment, that’s a shew and a half! I did manage to do so for six years before deciding to go public with my status.

Had I known what I know now about the dis-ease and the support I received once I disclosed my status, I would have made very different decisions much earlier in my diagnosis as it was quite a nightmare trying to carry the burden of knowing my status and keeping it hidden from everyone.

Each time World AIDS Day comes around I reflect on how complacent, that we, as South Africans have become.

Firstly, we do not recognise HIV & AIDS throughout the year but come 1st December everyone tries to jump on the bandwagon and shove it down everyone’s throat, which in turn makes them sigh and turn a blind eye. Not only that, but there is still so much ignorance and myths perpetrated with a dash of out-of-date medical staff, that we are lagging in support, information and awareness.

Rant over.

In some respects, we have come a long way. We manufacture our own ARV’s, offer PrEP to high-risk individuals (a preventative measure) and are rolling out ATM-like dispensers which have been started in the rural areas due to a shortage of accessible clinics for chronic medication users, which includes ARV dispensing.

Now to ‘dish the dirt’ on me.

I know it sounds blasé, but over time one learns to live with the virus as a ‘normal’ person. There is nothing that can change your status, but everything can be changed by an attitude adjustment. You manage your virus with medication and live a healthy productive life.

Being diagnosed HIV positive at the age of forty-six is not something you want to hear, not at any age in fact.

In 2004 my partner at the time knowingly infected me. I only found this out in 2012 after an interview with Carte Blanche, when a friend of a friend put me in touch with an ex –girlfriend of Wayne’s (I can use his name as it the matter got as far as the roll for High Court which allows public access).

Many people are unaware of the absolute basics of HIV, not only the uninfected, but the infected HIV positive individual as well. Sadly until the uninfected become infected they choose to remain oblivious. Here are a few choice pieces of information which I hope provide some basic insight into your HIV headspace.

1. If you feel you have possibly been exposed to HIV, you have a seventy-two hour period in which to get medical treatment and onto PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) which means taking antiretroviral medicines (ART) to potentially prevent becoming infected.

2. CD4 count – The CD4 count is like a snapshot of how well your immune system is functioning. CD4 cells (also known as CD4+ T cells) are white blood cells that fight infection. The more you have the better. These are the cells that the HIV virus kills. As HIV infection progresses, the number of these cells declines.

3. Viral Load – It measures the number of HIV virus particles in a millilitre of your blood. Those particles are also known as “copies.” A low viral load is a sign of the virus copying itself in low amounts in the body. According to AIDS.gov, HIV viral load is typically undetectable below levels of 40–75 copies/mL.

4. Undetectable = Untransmittable HIV – There are still many people living with HIV that don’t know that if the virus is undetectable, then they cannot transmit the virus to their sexual partners. Undetectable HIV means that the viral load is suppressed and doesn’t show up on blood tests. Note: You are still HIV positive.

We still have a pandemic in South Africa and recent stats have indicated abnormal numbers of new infections:

280, 000 new infections every year.

140, 000 HIV-related deaths every year.

Not only do we have these stats, we have the pregnancy figures in schools that are way over acceptable levels with children as young as nine and ten falling pregnant, which, if you think about it, open them up to STI’s as well as HIV.

I have since become a trainer, speaker and counsellor on HIV and authored two books, titled ‘The Deadly Seducer’ and ‘Error, Terror & Triumph’ in order to share more of my HIV journey.

I am pleased to say that even after a massive heart attack in March 2018, resulting in a double bypass (unrelated to my HIV status) I am doing well and at the age of 60, still have much to do so onward and upward I go…

[To read the devastatingly beautiful story of my friend Ashley Brownlee, click here]