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U=U strides in HIV prevention

Rachel Raditsebe

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HIV positive Gumisayi Bonzo (47) knows first-hand the fear and worry that accompanies every sexual encounter for a serodiscordant couple. This is a situation whereby two people are in a relationship and sexually active but one of them is HIV-positive while the other is HIV-negative.

“Our sex life was a big challenge, with me wanting to use about two condoms at a time, putting barriers during sexual intercourse like no kissing because I was afraid of passing on the virus to my her,” Bonzo shared in an interview with SunHealth on the side-lines of a regional capacity strengthening meeting for African National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in Johannesburg recently.
“My partner is negative and a transgender woman and right from the get go we were dealing with a lot of backlash from both of our families of why we shouldn’t be together. But we perceived and went through a lot of counselling.

“It was in one of those sessions that a doctor explained to them about the growing body of evidence that if Bonzo took her antiretroviral medication religiously and on time, and her viral load was low she would not pass on the virus to her partner.“You don’t know what a load off my shoulders that was. I have been on ARVs for the past 20 years and never defaulted. So we decided that I would go get a viral load test and it was undetectable.

“It doesn’t mean I don’t have the virus in me anymore, it’s just not detectable in my blood and so my partner and I wanted to know what it meant for us and our sex life.“We conducted further research on our own and decided it was worth trying not just for us but others especially adolescents born with the virus who have been led to believe they can’t have full lives like other ‘normal’people. “We started having unprotected sex and went for an HIV test six months later and she was still HIV negative. We have been doing that since 2015 and her status has not changed in that time,” Bonzo stated. For people living with HIV like Bonzo, the knowledge that undetectable virus equals un-transmittable is huge, “not only because it prevents us transmitting the virus to our loved ones but it removes fear,” she said.

“It removes the cloud that because you’re positive, you can’t do certain things. It’s the message that we give which for a long time has been negative and fearful. If we put fear in someone that just because they are HIV positive they can’t do this or that, you are taking away their self- esteem”.

In sharing her experience, Bonzo hopes to remove this cloud of fear and stigma from the community. But admittedly, it’s a difficult message for even the medical fraternity to spread.For a long time HIV/AIDS prevention messaging has been the long standing abstinence, be faithful and condomise. But now ARVs are being counted as a weapon to prevent the spread of HIV as well as to treat the virus, what the experts are now calling treatment-as-prevention. “Getting people to wrap their minds around that is really hard. But currently, no other intervention beyond abstinence shows such a level of protection against HIV. It’s probably even safer than condoms because things often go wrong with condoms,” said Deputy Executive Director of Wits University’s Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, Professor Francois Venter

“I can’t stress enough how strong the evidence that people who are on successful ARV treatment are 100 percent safe and will not transmit the virus,” said Prof Venter.While HIV new infection rates remain high in Southern Africa, there has been a slight decrease with South Africa at 44 percent, Botswana at 30 per cent and it’s similar in other countries in Southern Africa like eSwatini. And Prof Venter gives credit to the roll out of the Treat All campaign, a programme aimed at providing anti-retroviral treatment to all HIV positive people regardless of their CD4 count. Hundreds of health organisations worldwide including the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), now support the Undetectable = Untransmittable message.

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Positive Living

Let’s Rise Above Batho Ba Tla Reng Syndrome

Onalethata Mpebe

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In your life, you will constantly be surrounded by people who will judge you day in and day out. They will gossip about you when you succeed, and they will criticize and mock you when you fail. It is an absolute certainty that batho ba tla reng (people will talk).

How you respond to this certainty makes a world of difference for your life. Unfortunately, many people respond by shaping their lives around the approval of other people. Today, I want to encourage you to avoid living this way, which is what I call the the batho ba tla reng syndrome. We must learn how to respond when confronted by family or friends who challenge our decisions with the phrase “but what will people say?”

For me, the key to positive living is focusing on what pleases God, not people. People can never be pleased, unless humbled and influenced by the grace of God. The day I decided to go public about my HIV+ status, I didn’t consult anyone or ask anyone if I should. On that day, I found myself alone in my room, struggling with many suicidal thoughts. I remember that while I was fighting these thoughts, something inside of me urged me to share my HIV status with the public.

I made the decision on my own, even though I knew that my family would object. I told my cousin, who was fine with it. I also told my sister, who was against it. I told her that I am doing this for myself, to be free. She said that she didn’t understand what I was going through, but was worried about how I will handle negativity. I told her, “I don’t know how I will handle it, but I will see as time goes on.”

My mother was furious to find out I had gone public after I did it. She said: “ke eng o tsamaya o ikgasakgasa, ntha batho mo ba re ba itseng ga ba itatsetatse mo” (why did you go public, most people we know [who are HIV positive] never did that.) Many other family members began criticizing me for going public, but I chose not pay attention to negative things people were saying about me. I found amazing power within me which allowed me to rise above all of the judgment and negativity. I started paying more attention on building myself up as an HIV activist and motivational speaker. As a result, I began living my life the way I wanted.

Living this way is not without sacrifice, but for me, it is the only way to achieve my destiny. I found out that some people who I loved were trying to distract me from my life’s purpose. I just had to sever ties with the naysayers in order to pave the way to a much better and healthier life. The more I ignored the negativity, the more I found positivity within me, and from people who supported me.

My readers, please do not fall victim to the batho ba tla reng syndrome. Stop worrying what others think or say about you. When you care about what others think of you, you give your power away. You effectively disempower yourself. Worrying about what others think of you is the number one reason why people experience stress, anxiety, and fear. This is why we see many people today failing to accept their HIV status, to disclose to their partner and family, to adhere to medication and live a healthy lifestyle. Some people still fail to get tested for HIV or to enroll on ARV treatment because they are trapped in the batho ba tla reng syndrome. We must continue to rise above it!

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Art of Mindfulness

The wisdom of mindfulness and Depression

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When looking at depression we must look to our minds first: our mind is the creator of happiness and the creator of sadness.

There are many aspects of the mind but two stand out. The first is the ordinary mind: this aspect of the mind that thinks, plots, desires, manipulates, that flares up in anger, that creates and indulges in waves of negative emotions and thoughts, that has to go on and on asserting, validating and confirming its ‘existence’ by fragmenting, conceptualizing and solidifying experiences. This aspect of mind continually projects outwards.

And then there is the nature of mind: this aspect of the mind is hidden deep within our own mind. Enveloped and obscured by the mental scurry of our thoughts and emotions. It is free of grasping, asserting, validating and confirming. It is the part of mind that is at peace. When we look inwards we will see that the mind can free you from your negative emotions and thoughts. Looking inwards will create a complete shift in our attitude towards our life and the world we live in.

We are so addicted to looking outside ourselves that we have lost access to our inner being. This aspect of ourselves that has the potential to recognize peace and find freedom from our chaos. Mindfulness practice will slowly teach you to settle down, learn how to work with your mind and guide you towards peace. You will be able to change your mind from a depressed state to a calm state.

Daily mindfulness practice is an uncovering process – a way of meeting ourselves personally. Mindfulness allows you to discover that potential is one of the fundamental characteristics within us and we can gain a deeper sense of understanding ourselves and creating peace of mind. Your mind becomes the most powerful tool you have!

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