My mother has HIV and says so
THE FULL QUESTION (in a format of a letter to Auntie Stella)
Dear Auntie Stella
I‚Äôm a man aged 22. My mother is HIV positive and talks about it openly. She works for an AIDS organisation. ‚ÄòHIV is nothing to be ashamed of,‚Äô she says, ‚ÄòWhy should I hide it? We deserve love and acceptance.‚Äô
I was in Grade 4 when my mother told me she was HIV positive. At first I was scared she would die but now I know you can have HIV and stay well for years. My mother‚Äôs been HIV positive for over 12 years. She takes care of herself by eating good food and relaxing so she is mostly fine. She says we need to be open about HIV and AIDS and break down everybody‚Äôs fears so they‚Äôll treat HIV positive people better.
I disagree ‚Äì people have bad attitudes about AIDS so it‚Äôs not worth telling them. You can tell close family and friends, but they must keep it secret.
One thing we agree on, though, is you must tell your kids, because they find out anyway. They must know the truth and be able to talk about it.
So, Auntie, what do you think? I love my mom and I‚Äôm proud of her ‚Äì but which of us is right?
ANSWER (also in a letter format)
I can‚Äôt give you an answer about who to tell when you have HIV or AIDS; it is a big and difficult decision. Everyone must make their own choice. Some people tell nobody, others tell a close relative or friend, others tell many ‚Äì and they do this at different stages. Whatever people choose is fine.
Many people feel happier when they share their feelings and some people, like your mother, are brave enough to speak out publicly. And for everybody with HIV or AIDS, having a counsellor or support group to talk to is really important.
However, until society becomes more open about HIV, telling people can have serious results, like losing your job, your friends or partner or even the place you stay. People need to balance the benefits against the possible losses for themselves personally, before they tell anyone they are HIV positive. If you have a job, you also need to learn your legal rights as an HIV positive worker.
Certainly I agree that children are usually happier when they know the truth, even if it‚Äôs sad.
So, thank you for helping many young people by being so brave and open. Your and your mother‚Äôs story will give hope to many people.
(For complete Auntie Stella services visit www.auntiestella.org; For Swahili speakers the services are available from PASHA - Prevention and Awareness in Secondary Schools of HIV/AIDS of GTZ Tanzania)