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Living positively with HIV

Written by More Matshediso

HIV/AIDS Awareness Month

Keeping a child living with HIV happy and healthy is not easy, but staying positive, listening to your doctor and taking your medication are vital coping tools

Since he was just one month old, 10-year-old Themba Buthelezi* has been on HIV treatment.

His mother Slindelo Buthelezi*, who lives in Johannesburg, passed the virus to her infant through her breastmilk.

She shared with Vuk’uzenzele the details of how she strives to keep both herself and her son healthy by ensuring they routinely take their antiretroviral treatment (ART) to supress their viral loads.

“He was about one month old when he tested positive. I could not understand why because his siblings did not get the infection. The nurses at the clinic then explained to me that unfortunately my son got it from breastfeeding. I was devastated but I had to accept it as time went by,” she said.

She has made her son’s health a priority. Because she has been living with the disease for over 25 years, Slindelo knows that to keep her child alive and strong, she must ensure that he never misses a dose of his medicine.

When Themba was about seven, Slindelo explained to him why he had to take medication every night.

“I told him the truth. I also told him not to be scared and let him know that I also live with HIV. Because I am a mother who talks openly to her children, it was easy for him to accept it and we talk about it whenever it is necessary because I want him to be free,” she explained.

“We go to the clinic together and he is aware of his health status. He understands very well why he has to take medication. Sometimes he even reminds me just before the alarm rings to remind us to take it,” she said.

Slindelo said her son’s class teacher knows about his status and understands that he will sometimes be absent from school to allow him to go for check-ups and to collect medication.

“I think it is in my child’s best interests that the teacher knows,” she explained.

She advised parents and guardians who have children who live with the disease to take their children to clinics or doctors whenever they are not well.

 Her biggest challenge is that she is unemployed and survives on social grants and the profit made from selling ice-cream. With regular meals essential to their wellbeing, much of their money goes on buying nutritious food.

“So far I can say my child is okay. He has never been troubled or felt that he was different from other children just because he lives with the disease. He is very bright and does well at school,” she said. *Not their real names.