Thuthukile Mbatha, Spotlight
When Tshepo Ngoato’s doctor and aunt sat him down to tell him he was HIV-positive, he felt as if his world had crashed before his eyes – that he had been dealt a death sentence.
Now, this 26 year-old man is a role model for many young people, and a co-
founder of the Y+ network, a volunteer group of young people living with HIV (YPLHIV) who have demonstrated a commitment and connection to a constituency of YPLHIV in South Africa. They work to guide parents and healthcare providers on how to address the needs of HIV-positive young people, such as the appropriate age to inform children about their status, and how to support them thereafter. They also offer psychosocial support to HIV-positive youth.
Tshepo is one of thousands of children born with HIV in South Africa. He found out about his HIV status in 2003, after being diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB). His doctor recommended that they do further tests on him, and he tested positive for HIV. He was told to finish his TB treatment first before initiating antiretroviral treatment.
“The media had portrayed HIV as a death sentence – I thought I was going to die soon,” says Tshepo. When he disclosed to his family and friends, some of them did not take the news well, and decided to distance themselves from him. “I lost a lot of friends and family when I came out about my HIV status,” he adds. This rejection was devastating for the teenager.
Tshepo decided at a young age to be open about his HIV status. “My rule is to tell someone I am (romantically) interested in about my status before we even get into a relationship,” he says.
Tshepo has been living with HIV openly for years, and has established a network of young people living with HIV called Y+, represented in all nine provinces. Y+ is currently finalising consultations with YPLHIV in all the provinces to find out the needs of young people living with HIV, because a large number of them find it hard to talk to nurses or their parents. “We have noted that there are a lot of HIV-positive adolescents who have treatment anxiety also, driven by the fact that they do not even know why they are taking this treatment,” says Tshepo.
Other than being the founder of Y+, Tshepo is expanding his horizons in other ways too. “I am currently completing a Bachelor of Business Administration degree through Milpark Business College in Johannesburg. I am an outgoing person. I enjoy doing outdoors stuff, such as hiking and mountain climbing.”
His message to young people is: “You may see that you are beautiful on the outside; but if you haven’t gone for an HIV test yet, you shouldn’t be confident about knowing what’s beautiful on the inside. You can change this by getting tested, and knowing your health status. That would be a wise decision; you should never be scared of something that involves your health.
“To those already living with HIV, your life is the most important thing; you should value it. Being positive is nothing to fear. Never limit yourself and your strength just because you are positive. Your positivity comes with a lot of reactions; do not change who you are, just change your attitude towards living healthily and taking your pills.”