HIV-positive Teens Demand More Support

July 21,2016

DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA— Nompumelelo Simelane sees herself as an average teenager. She loves to cook, and loves to spend time with her family and girlfriend. She also has HIV.

The virus makes her a part of a growing demographic in Africa, where the United Nations says AIDS is now the top killer of teenagers.

The 19-year-old Soweto resident — who was diagnosed with HIV at 13, and believes she was born with the virus — says adolescence and AIDS are a double whammy. But, she says, her generation knows more about the virus than their elders did.

"At first, it was just something that I didn't know would hurt me or anything,” she said. “I was just like, ‘It's HIV, I'm gonna live, I'm gonna to live on ARVs and I'm gonna be fine.’ But as time went by, things started to change, and I do not know why. Maybe because I was growing up and starting to feel different now that I have the virus."

Teens at the International AIDS Conference say they need their own space in discussions about the virus.

This radio station in the conference is run by teens, and they say Africa's youth are eager to talk to each other about AIDS — through both new and old media.

"We have a lot of feedback, especially from people that are fans of Twitter,” Phiri said. “People are tweeting to us, people are coming through our booth, people are listening in, saying, 'I want to be on radio now, I want to voice out.’ "

Simelane's mother — who is also HIV-positive — says parents need help and support in working with their HIV-positive children when they lash out.

"Nompumelelo took it like she understood everything, but she didn't,” Lindiwe Simelane said.

But Simelane says her mother gave her the most important tool in fighting the disease: her unconditional love and support, so she does not have to fight alone.