A new face of HIV

By Babalwa Sijila
May 30 2018

We need a new face of HIV. Faces that are healthy, happy and thriving. Faces that give people hope and encouragement. Faces we can look to in our darkest hour and see them living – not dying. I want to be one of those faces. I want to inspire people to live their best lives no matter what!

I tested positive for HIV when I was 21 years old. At the time people like Nkosi Johnson were the only faces shown in the media. He was an incredible human, but he was sick, and he died and that was terrifying for me.  My diagnosis hit me hard, I did not want to know. I did not want to be known. I wanted to hide, I didn’t see a point in studying or planning for the future that I knew I could never have. Every story I saw, everything I heard told me that the monster of HIV was coming to get me.

That was 17 years ago, and I am still here. I have never been sick. I get minor ailments like everyone else and life can be hard, but I am still standing. I am a proud mother of three beautiful girls who were all born HIV negative. I have a good job that I love and family and friends who care for me. Over and above all this God’s love and mercy has sustained me.

Last week I disclosed my HIV status to my entire company. I stood in front of 100 co-workers and shared my story. I want to be known.

I work at BroadReach, a health solutions company that ironically works with the South African government, funded by USAID/PEPFAR, to fight HIV. I am the administrator for the technology and data analytics teams that develop tools to help healthcare workers reach their targets. For four years I have sat in the office, listening and feeling like a data point.

I don’t want to be a data point any more, I feel like I have something unique to add. So, three weeks ago, when I decided to disclose my status to my boss. He listened, and we went to speak with Ernest Darkoh, CoFounder of BroadReach to share my feelings. We started to create a vision for my life about presenting a positive face of HIV that goes beyond the numbers.

Ernest invited me to join him on his to trip Gauteng that following week where he was visiting various facilities and clinics BroadReach supports. I met with patients who had just tested positive for HIV and I saw the hopelessness in their eyes. It took me back to 2001 when I was afraid of the death sentence I’d just been given. I believe it is this hopelessness and fear that cause new patients to hide from the disease and avoid treatment. They do not want to know, they do not want to be known.

I want to give hope to all the people who are struggling to come to term with their HIV positive status. Show them a face of a woman that is happy and healthy and full of life. An honest face because sometimes life is hard, everyone’s life can be hard. I want people to know that HIV is not the scary monster it once was. It can be managed one day at a time. And if it will help, I will be a new face of HIV.

Babalwa Sijila
Senior Administrator, BroadReach