Handling hormones and HIV

09 November 2012 - 02:05 By KATHARINE CHILD
HIV infecting a cell (blue). File illustration.
HIV infecting a cell (blue). File illustration.
Image: Gallo Imges/Thinkstock

"Life is hectic. I am angry. I have HIV. I feel different from the other kids. And all this stuff."

These are the words of Thando*, a 16-year-old Johannesburg girl whose eyes flash with anger as she spins around in her chair and speaks honestly, but calmly, about her rage.

Thando was born HIV-positive. When she was 12, she became ill and her mother took her to be tested for HIV. Four years later, she is still coming to terms with her diagnosis.

Gail Johnson, founder of Nkosi's Haven, a home for orphaned and vulnerable children, said that as children who were born HIV-positive grew and began to understand what their diagnosis meant in terms of sexuality, they became angry.

"These teenagers were infected as children with no responsibility or pleasure of their own," she said, explaining why they become "defiant".

Occasionally, teenagers at Nkosi's Haven, in the south of Johannesburg, have refused to take their anti-retroviral medication.

"Teenagers would say: 'I will take my medicine when I feel like it'."

As a result, Johnson sought legal advice but was told that, from the age of 14, a child has the right to choose whether to take medicine.

"I cannot sit on a 14- or 15-year-old's chest and make him take pills," she said.

"It is their responsibility. I can't imagine what it must feel like."

Thando has considered stopping taking her medicine but says that eventually she always does.

Her mother broke the news of her diagnosis when she was 12.

But her mother, who died a year later, refused to speak to her about how she contracted the virus.

"She didn't tell me. Why didn't she tell me?" asked Thando.

She said she has told her best friend about her status.

"Her mother died of Aids so she understands."

But Thando does not reveal that she is HIV-positive to her school friends, who often urge her to drink alcohol.

A frustrated Thando said: "I can't go to [drinking] parties. I can't drink. I used to drink. I want to drink. But then I might do other things."

Johnson understands.

"People say HIV is a chronic manageable disease. But it is not like diabetes because with diabetes you can sleep with as many people as you want," she said.

But Kelobogile* feels differently.

She is 16, was born HIV-positive and has accepted it.

She says she is not angry. "I don't feel sad. I only go to church."

Kelobogile said: "I would tell [angry] people 'Don't worry; only God knows why He gave it to you'."

*Names have been changed.

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