The first instalment of our Think Positive series is a story from 27-year-old Aviwe.
Aviwe was diagnosed with HIV when she was just 17, at the same time she found out she was pregnant with her first child. She is from Khayelitsha Township in Cape Town, South Africa, which is an informal settlement and home to an estimated 1.5m people.
She’s now 27 and has five children, who are all HIV negative. Aviwe is completely open about her status and feels she has overcome stigma – and says she will not let it define her.
“I’m living my life and I’m living a fruitful life. Why should I cry each and every day about HIV? I haven’t had any stigma, not at all, because I’m bold, I don’t let anyone stigmatise me. There’s no need to feel shame.”
But not all people living with the virus have such confidence to live so openly. HIV stigma is still a huge challenge and often comes from lack of awareness, as well as fear and misinformation, and has a huge impact on the lives of people living with the virus.
Aviwe met mothers2mothers at a health clinic in Khayelitsha on the day she was diagnosed with HIV and has been supported by them ever since.
mothers2mothers train and employ HIV positive mothers to become community health workers called Mentor Mothers. They aim to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV and support women and families through their diagnosis and then empower them to live well and manage the virus.
Aviwe says: “This is where I get support. I meet other women and we share our stories. Life has continued. Life is normal living with HIV, all that I need to do is take one pill a day and life continues as it should. I’m living with HIV but I’m still beautiful.”
Funding from Comic Relief and M·A·C AIDS Fund is supporting Aviwe’s community to empower the young people there who are living with HIV and who do experience stigma to overcome this and experience life in a more positive way.
A new project will train 13 Peer Mentors aged 20-24 who will be deployed within the community to engage other young girls and women in important topics, such as family planning advice, safe sex, busting HIV myths and working directly in schools and colleges. This recruitment drive is now underway in Khayelitsha and is putting young people at the very heart of tackling one of the world’s biggest challenges.
Nozi, who is leading the project, said: “Most of our Mentor Mothers are above the age of adolescents and it becomes difficult for them to connect with the younger generation. Our Peer Mentors will be a similar age, and they’ll be HIV positive and negative so that all young people will be able to relate to them.
“We want them to let young people know that if they are on treatment, their lives are as normal as everyone else’s’ lives. And we’ll teach them that if they become pregnant young, it doesn’t mean it’s the end of their dreams – they still have future.”
In 2017, Comic Relief and M∙A∙C AIDS Fund, the charitable arm of M∙A∙C Cosmetics, came together to tackle HIV and AIDS. In partnership, they have provided £2 million in grants to organisations working with some of the most vulnerable and marginalised communities across sub-Saharan Africa and the UK. Grants are focused on improving the quality of life of people living with HIV and AIDS, and funding innovative approaches to increase prevention, care and support, and access to treatment.