South Africa makes progress in HIV, AIDS fight

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 1, 2012 at 11:55 am •  Published: December 1, 2012

"I didn't understand it at that time because I was only 24, and I said, 'What the hell is that?'" she said.

Sixteen years after her first diagnosis, she is now on anti-retroviral drugs and her life has turned around. She says the clinic has been instrumental. To handle the flow of patients, they're electronically checked in at reception, several nursing stations with partitions are set up to check vital signs and a new machine even helps dispense medicine to the pharmacists.

"My status has changed my life, I have learned to accept people the way they are. I have learned not to be judgmental. And I have learned that it is God's purpose that I have this," the 40-year-old said.

She works with a support group of "positive ladies" in her hometown near Krugersdorp. She travels to the clinic as often as needed and her optimism shines through her gold eye shadow and wide smile. "I love the way I'm living now."

Motsoahae credits Nelson Mandela's family for inspiring her to face up to her status. The anti-apartheid icon galvanized the AIDS community in 2005 when he publicly acknowledged his son died of AIDS.

Motsoahae is among about a hundred people waiting in a room to see one of about 10 doctors or to collect medications. A woman there rises up, slings her baby behind her back in a green fleece blanket, and tries to leave by zigzagging through the intercrossing legs of those seated.

None of Motsoahae's children was born with HIV. The number of children newly infected with HIV has declined significantly. In six countries in sub-Saharan Africa — South Africa, Burundi, Kenya, Namibia, Togo and Zambia —the number of children with HIV declined by 40 to 59 percent between 2009 and 2011, the UNAIDS report said.

But the situation remains dire for those over the age of 15, who make up the 5.3 million of those infected in South Africa. Fear and denial lend to the high prevalence of HIV for that age group in South Africa, said the clinic's Kay Mahomed.

About 3.5 million South Africans still are not getting therapy, and many wait too long to come in to clinics or don't stay on the drugs, said Dr. Dave Spencer, who works at the clinic .

"People are still afraid of a stigma related to HIV," he said, adding that education and communication are key to controlling the disease.

Themba Lethu clinic reaches out to the younger generation with a teen program.

Tshepo Hoato, 21, who helps run the program found out he was HIV positive after his mother died in 2000. He said he has been helped by the program in which teens meet one day a month.

"What I've seen is a lot people around our ages, some commit suicide as soon as they find out they are HIV. That's a very hard stage for them so we came up with this program to help one another," he said. "We tell them our stories so they can understand and progress and see that no, man, it's not the end of the world."