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BURUNDI: I am free to live after revealing my HIV status

Photo: Judith Basutama/IRIN
Adelaine Nzambimana, 18, has been infected with HIV since birth.
BUJUMBURA, 2 April 2007 (PlusNews) - Eighteen-year-old Adeline Nzambimana is a secondary school student living in the Burundian capital, Bujumbura. She has had the HI virus since birth, and lost both her parents through AIDS in 1993.

Growing up in her aunt's home, Adeline was only told she was infected with HIV five years ago.

"Since I was little I was always ill; coughing, infections, malaria. I don't remember a time when I was not ill. As I grew up, I started hearing about HIV, seeing people living with HIV.

My aunt from time to time took me to ANSS (an association to support to people living with HIV/AIDS). I started asking myself questions, why was I there? When she told me, I was still in primary school. I was shocked, no, not shocked - it was like a thunder bolt.

''No more
reason to whisper it as a secret, everybody knew. I felt relieved of a heavy burden.
''
I cried and cried, asking myself how I could stand other people's looks; I imagined that everyone knew about my status. At that time, it was very hard to accept - being HIV-positive meant death since so few could afford the price of drugs.

I continued to attend school but it was as if I was not there. Nothing was of interest. At the end of primary school, I spent a whole year without attending school; I was too ill to study. My friends came to see me but I could not tell them, I feared their reaction.

When I started secondary school, things got worse. For the first time, I faced stigmatisation. Pupils were whispering behind my back: "Adeline is positive." I felt hurt deep inside and I stayed alone, afraid of talking to others. I even considered abandoning school. I could not figure out staying there and continuing when the whole school knew. As I was regularly absent, some teachers did not stand it either. 

Then one day, I saw other HIV-positive children in a television programme. They were giving their testimonies, about how they are living with the virus. Like me, they had problems. Some were even stigmatised in their own families - which is not the case for me - but they chose to live positively.

From that time, I saw I was not alone and could live like them. I decided to join their association, le Réseau des Jeunes Vivant avec le VIH (the network of youths living with HIV). I first started publicly declaring my status during testimonies at school or at the local youth centre. No more reason to whisper it as a secret, everybody knew. I felt relieved of a heavy burden. Some people believed I was foolish, but little by little, they approved of my choice.

Coming out in the open with my status completely changed my life. I no longer live in fear and my friend's attitudes towards me have also changed; they even come to ask me for advice.

Since I started taking ARVs [life-prolonging antiretroviral therapy] in 2002, my health has improved - I spend months without falling sick.

jb/kr/kn

Theme (s): PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews, Youth - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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