International Ministries

Today I learned I was HIV positive

April 3, 2008 Journal
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Imagine you are a 20-year-old South African man, who has just flunked out of high-school. You live on the rural border of a large city, where you travel each day for about $1.50 to study the courses you failed, so that you can get the equivalent of a GED to qualify for better work. These courses are math, biology and physical sciences. Your schooling to date took place in crowed classes with 60 students per room, and your teachers would often not show up for class for weeks out of the year. Teachers as a group have high HIV rates.

To finance your studies, you work odd jobs as they are available. You aspire to formal employment, but your lack of high school graduation stands in your way to compete for such work, and there is a 40 percent unemployment rate in your area. You are soft-spoken, personable and handsome.

Today you are travelling with neighbours to a local church where people are doing a presentation about HIV/AIDS and testing for a variety of common conditions. You come along to help your elderly neighbour lady walk up the hill to get to the meeting.

While you are there, you get into a conversation with an American missionary and relate the above information.

An hour later, after being tested for HIV by a trained church member, that same missionary is called in to confirm that you have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The test results are unequivocal, and today is the day you learn that you are HIV positive.

After the initial shock, your greatest fear is that you will be denied employment because of your HIV positive status. All you have been working to achieve suddenly seems out of reach. Fortunately for you, you live in South Africa where it is illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of a person’s HIV status.

You are still healthy, and four months ago you tested HIV negative at a local clinic. You have been involved briefly with a young woman since then, but there was trouble between you, and you are not currently speaking with her.

The missionary asks you if you will find this person and ask her to also be tested. You refuse to do this, as this is not expected of you in South Africa. Health workers are not allowed to report your personal status to the public health authorities, and case contacts are not made.

You are encouraged to seek further care at the local government clinic, where the most modern medications for HIV are available. You have been picked up very early in the disease process, and have a normal life expectancy, which the missionary emphasizes to you. You are counselled in ways to avoid spreading the infection.

This happened this past Saturday. About one of every 10 men in South Africa is HIV positive. Thanks to your support, we are able to diagnose them early and offer them hope and information, which is lacking in many settings here. The church equipped to screen for common health problems has much to offer people in need. Please pray for this young man as he continues his studies, that he may enter the work force on his own terms, and live a long and illness-free life. He does plan to attend health classes which we will offer in the local church for his rural community.