BOTHA-BOTHE – For a 22-year old Palesa Mololi*, who tested HIV positive from birth, the social clubs organised by women in her area have played a pivotal role towards her treatment and being able to fearlessly talk to anyone about her status.
Palesa, of Lerallaneng, told the MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism in recent interview she found it hard to accept her status after being tested HIV positive while she was still residing in Mohale’s Hoek in the genesis stages of her primary school.
While she could fearlessly speak to the Centre about her HIV status, she refused to have her real names published on account her family members may not appreciate.
But she says ever since she attended the social groupings of Basali-ba-Matla, usually held at the Botha-Bothe Youth Centre, she has been motivated and encouraged to undergo treatment as well as urging her agemates to test.
Basali-ba-Matla is a social club established in August 2018, and first started by women in the Botha-Bothe district to exchange ideas about issues facing women in their daily lives, as well as assisting those living with HIV against any form of stigma.
Narrating her story, Palesa said she first knew about her status while she was 14 years old, before her mother died due to AIDs.
She says prior to her being told about her status, she was about 10 years old when she would always see her mother taking ARVs, which she (mother) also gave to her. “At that time I did not know that they were ARVs,” Palesa said.
She continued that as time went on and “I think was about 14 years old when my mother told me why she had been giving me the tablets. She told me that they were ARVs and that I was born HIV positive”. At first, she said, she was frustrated and on denial.
She said she did not understand how that was possible as her understanding at the time was to the effect that one could only get HIV through sexual intercourse with an HIV positive person.
After learning about her status, Palesa said she decided to divorce herself from friends, and other students. “I told one friend who began spreading to the entire school that I was HIV positive,” she said.
This, she said, was the beginning of her feeling stigmatised due to her HIV status.
She said while her guardian brother and sister were very supportive to her, as well as her class teacher, she would always feel humiliated when other students raise the issue of her status while she was from the clinic.
“They knew about my routine of going to the clinic because I left on the same day of every week for my HIV treatment. When I returned from the clinic, they would always utter the words ‘ke eane oa AIDS’,” she said.
She said even counselling was a waste of time for her “because it was very difficult to accept that I am HIV positive”.
Palesa said it was not until last year that she heard of the Basali-ba-Matla and joined that she felt better.
“It is then that I took interest in being faithful to the treatment and since then, I have been living a healthy life, getting ill like any other person,” she told the Centre.
Explaining the benefits of treatment, Palesa said: “It is very crucial because it enables you to achieve things you want to achieve in life. The reason I’m faithful to the treatment is because unlike my mother who met her death as a result of not being committed and faithful to the treatment, I want to live long and lead a healthy life even though I’m HIV positive”.
Palesa told the Centre that her mother “would only take the ARVs while she was here in Lesotho. Once she left for Gauteng, she would leave them and not even take them while there, at times she would return home sick. As a result of this, her virus multiplied, hence ended passing on.
“It is for this reason that I realised that it is possible for me to live long if I be faithful to the treatment, plus we have living examples of people who were tested HIV positive at their early childhood age, but are old now and are living their lives like any other person due to treatment,” she said.
One of the founding members of the Basali-ba-Matla, Lerato Thoahlane, told the Centre one of the main reasons they started the club “was to motivate persons living with HIV since we realised that there are some challenges that they face daily in their families, schools and communities”.
Thoahlane said they had observed that people living with HIV needed motivation to undergo HIV treatment, adding that treatment failure “is a result of HIV patient giving up on the treatment for whatever reason. We meet once every month, and encourage them to undergo treatment, and above all, help them with self-acceptance as well as provide a platform for them to disclose their status to family members for support,” she said.
She says it was their observation that “some people after knowing their status find it very difficult to disclose, because they don’t have the skills to help them talk. When you disclose your status, you don’t just say you are HIV positive and then you don’t expect a person to be shocked or ask questions. So, we prepare them to be in a position to deal with criticism and any questions that may arise regarding their status and to also be empires to young children struggling to accept their status”.