Treat me like a normal person, says HIV positive boy

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Regardless of his HIV status, Luyanda Ngcobo, 16, who has been relying on anti retroviral treatment (ART) since 2002 has urged people to treat him like a normal person, writes Gabi Khumalo.

Born at Nyanga in Cape Town, Luyanda spent most of his time in hospitals and even dropped out of school, however, he is fighting the disease and is determined to achieve his dream of becoming an ecologist.

Luyanda shared his story of growing up with the disease and the challenges he went through during the Nkosi Johnson Memorial Lecture held at the opening of the 4th Southern African AIDS Conference at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre on Tuesday.

He said the first time he got sick was in 1997 and was then admitted to the King Edward Hospital in Durban, where he was diagnosed with lung disease and TB.

"I took medication for six months and can still remember the horrible taste of the treatment, I often had fever and was absent from school most of the time until I dropped out in June.

"I became a regular at the Red Cross Hospital and my mother also lost her job in 1998, I only went back to school in 2001 and couldn't sleep for three months because of the coughing," Luyanda said.

After taking various HIV treatments, Luyanda is fine and enjoys life with his friends like any other normal person of his age.

He thanked his mother, who is an HIV councillor, for supporting him during the hard times and is now focusing on his studies.

"I'm well and doing better in my subjects, my favourite subject is English," he told the delegates, adding that he wanted to be a leader instead of being a follower.

Luyanda, who has an 11-year-old sister, encouraged other kids infected with HIV not to allow the disease to prevent them from doing what they wanted in life.

"Life is a journey however; this part of the journey will pass. I'm living a normal life and the only challenge I have is to take the medication everyday for the rest of my life.

"My wish is to see more people getting tested and receive treatment," he said.

According to statistics by the Medical Research Council and the Department of Health and Stats South Africa, 5.2 million people are living with HIV and AIDS in South Africa with 900 daily infections.

However, Deputy President Baleka Mbete said the epidemic was declining in the age group of 15 to 19-years-old, however she added that more must be done to double these figures.

She also emphasised a need for collaboration between government and civil society to develop responses to HIV and AIDS.

Protecting women, she said, was a human right, but also a challenge since they are not alone in a relationship.

"The quest of raising awareness is quiet critical to change attitudes of women to say no and being taken serious," she said.

The four-day conference, themed 'Scaling up for Success', aims to escalate the combined knowledge and experiences from the Southern African region to mitigate the impact of HIV and AIDS.

During the sessions on Wednesday, various artists from South Africa will participate in a round table discussion, where they will share with delegates the roles they are playing to scale up the success of HIV and AIDS prevention.