Twenty-eight-year-old Zikhona Dingile from Mfuleni has been living with HIV for five years after being infected by her ex-boyfriend when she was 23-years-old.
Ms Dingile decided to take control of her life after being in denial about her status and constantly defaulting on her treatment for two years.
Ms Dingile, who works as a community advocate for Hope Africa, a non-governmental organisation in Kenilworth and who is also involved in other initiatives that encourage people to collect their HIV treatment and track those who default on their treatment, is healthy and living proudly knowing her status.
As the number of people infected with Covid-19 in South Africa continues to increase, she shares with Vukani how she is coping.
“When I heard of the coronavirus from the news, I was also a bit ignorant because I wasn’t sure it would really reach South Africa but I’m not scared of the virus because I have been through so much in my life. I have been hospitalised three times in a row for meningitis. I believe that if one with a strong immune system can be infected they can fight it,” she said.
She said she has finally started a personal blog called, LetItNotDefineYouTogetherWeCanMakeAChange, where she encourages her more than a thousand viewers to stick to their treatment. She hopes that the blog will result in a support group or NGO for young people. “I want to advise them every day to be always cautious and responsible for their lives, even if they’ve tested positive.
“If I can do it, why not them? I am currently looking for anyone who is willing to help me make my dream come true – where everyone shares what they went through in life and find the support they need and get the love they always wanted. It doesn’t matter whether they’re HIV positive or not, we all have been through a lot.
“Some have been rejected, raped, are bipolar, living with various chronic illnesses, coming from poor backgrounds – it doesn’t matter. I want them to know that no matter what the situations we have been through in life, it doesn’t define who we are.”
Ms Dingile said her reason behind encouraging everyone is to teach them that being HIV positive is not a death sentence.
“It is manageable like any other chronic illness.My whole purpose by encouraging people through social media platforms is to teach them and make them see that there’s life after being tested positive.
“You can still be the person you were, have the same dreams and goals and achieve them by just staying consistent to your treatment and taking your ARVs (antiretrovirals) every day, same time and by doing so, you’re boosting your immune system to be stronger and be healthier while decreasing your HIV viral load in your blood until you reach an undetectable viral load,” she said.
Ms Dingile told Vukani that support from your loved ones is very important when you have to live with a chronic illness. She said she realised that she had to be more cautious and take better care of herself now than before and that she would have to take treatment for the rest of her life.
“It was easy for me because of my family and friends who were there for me; they were much more supportive than I expected.
“Support from your loved ones is very vital and when you are living with a chronic illness, a sense of belonging is the only thing that makes us pursue life the way it was before.
“We are stigmatised and rejected by the community but I told myself personally the day I will lose focus, hope and faith is when my family rejects me.
“We live in a society that isn’t making things easy for us – we are labelled different names and being judged.
But if you know your purpose in life and know where God has taken you from, those are just stumbling blocks to your success and to prove that God had been there since day one.”