Thembi Khabonina Nkomo, from Daantjie in Nelspruit, was diagnosed with HIV 13 years ago. She was afraid of being disowned by her family. She now credits her family’s love and support for her strength and happiness.
“The first time I heard about HIV I didn’t know much about it but I wanted to know my status. I visited the clinic where I received pre-counselling and was tested.
“I learnt that I was HIV-positive. I was so disappointed I thought of killing myself because I was confused and afraid
“I started asking myself questions I couldn’t answer. I wondered where I got the virus from and who had infected me. My biggest worry was how I was going to tell my parents.
“I kept my HIV status a secret for four years, but in those four years I became sick. In 2001, I contracted tuberculosis (TB). I took the treatment as I was told, so the TB was cured. In 2002, I developed breast cancer, but because it was at an early stage it was treated.
“Then in 2004, I was diagnosed with TB again. I had no choice but to disclose my HIV status to my family.
“I had kept quiet all those years was because I thought they would abandon and disown me, but I was wrong.
“Hearing my mom say, ‘my child, we will always love you, care and support you, no matter what,’ gave me the courage to talk about HIV, teach others, and fight the stigma and discrimination in my community. I joined the Treatment Action Campaign’s local branch.
“In April 2005, I started my antiretroviral (ARV) treatment.
“The first time I started my ARVs, I made a mistake and took a pill in the morning that I was supposed to take at night. I was about to do my laundry. I was so dizzy I fell into the water head-first. I almost drowned. If it hadn’t for my neighbours, I would have died that day.
“For an HIV-positive person to live long, she has to live a positive lifestyle and make sure to adhere to treatment.
“My advice? Join a support group. Keep yourself busy so that you won’t get stressed.
“Stigma and discrimination are still serious issues, but don’t let them hold you back from enjoying your life because you only live once. I encourage every HIV-positive person to start treatment as early as possible.
“I can’t wait to start taking the fixed dose combination (FDC) ARV. I want to be the first one at my clinic to beswitch to the FDC. One pill a day will really increase our adherence to treatment, and our lives will be so much easier.”
As of October 1, South Africa’s FDC ARV is no longer just for pregnant women or those just starting HIV treatment, but can be made available to even long-time ARV patients.