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Help break the HIV stigma

The Community Advisory Board (CAB) of the University Stellenbosch Immunology Research Group (SU-IRG), will be hosting a day of HIV and tuberculosis (TB) testing in the Elsies River and Ravensmead clinics on Thursday 18 July.

CAB chairperson, Moses Witbooi, said the theme of the day is “It’s Time – Break the Stigma, Break the Silence”.

“HIV is no longer a death sentence – we have people who have been living positively for years with this virus because they know their status and are receiving appropriate treatment. HIV-positive individuals are at high risk of secondary infection, TB being one of the most common co-infections.

“Early diagnosis and effective disease treatment are key to managing this disease. We invite community leaders, faith-based organisations, businesses and community members to get involved in this event. All those who get tested will be rewarded with a “goodie bag,” said Witbooi.

They also run a feeding project called Yummy Tummy. This is winter food drive for SU-IRG Clinic Trial participants. “This project serves as a token of appreciation towards participants. They are treated to a meal at each study visit. We would like to thank all our sponsors for supporting our efforts and welcome any additional donations that can help sustain this project,” explained Witbooi.

CAB member shares her HIV+ journey

Elsies River resident Charmaine Petersen and CAB member has been living a normal life with HIV for the past 23 years. She contracted it through unprotected sex with her late partner. “After he died, I went to have myself tested for HIV at the Dirkie Uys Clinic in Goodwood because there were a lot of stories (about her husband’s infidelity) going around.

“The test turned out positive and my whole world stood still for that moment. The journey over the years has been a rollercoaster ride socially, mentally and spiritually. I went through a phase of denial before finally accepting my status.”

She said the name shaming increased tremendously when people learned that she was HIV positive. “I was called ‘the plague’ by a pastor and a reverend called my virus the ‘leprosy of the millennial’. But despite all of this, I have learned not to take offence to anything people say. I’m living my best life and all I want to do is educate people about HIV and Aids. Someone also told me I have Aids, but I don’t have Aids. I am HIV-positive. There is a difference.”

Petersen takes one anti-retroviral a day, specifically at night. She said the only side-effect she experienced with her ARV’s was lipodystrophy in her face.

“HIV changes your life so patients need to first accept that they have it and receive proper counselling. More church leaders need to become empowered and educated about the virus and offer counselling to those who have it.

“I have done awareness days in prisons, faith-based centres and churches,” said Petersen.

Petersen said anyone who would like to contact her or who needs advice can contact her on 079 309 5039.

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