Feature story

I’m just a normal teenager living with HIV

29 July 2019

Aziwe is 19 years old and lives with her mother, Phatiswa, in an informal settlement called Umlazi, near Durban, South Africa. Both women are living with HIV and both are full of energy, love, hope and optimism for the future.

Aziwe didn’t find out she was HIV positive until she was about 14 years old. She had already been on treatment for five years but her mother had decided not to tell her that she was HIV positive, even while making sure that her daughter stayed healthy by taking her medication every day.

When the doctor asked her if she wanted to know why she had to take medicines so regularly, Aziwe did not hesitate. As she had grown older, so had her curiosity. When the doctor told her that she was living with HIV she broke down. Her mother too.  

Now, five years later, Aziwe is a happy, confident teenager who is highly articulate as she tells the family story to the UNAIDS Executive Director a.i. Gunilla Carlsson ahead of the launch of UNAIDS global report on the state of the AIDS epidemic.

Phatiswa lived in the Eastern Cape in 1999 but, like many women, left to find work as a domestic worker in Durban. She’s good at her job and has been working for the same family for 19 years.

The children stayed behind in the Eastern Cape at first. But Aziwe was a sickly child and came to live with her mother a few years later. In 2009, she became very ill and was rushed to hospital where she would remain for 2 weeks. It was there that she was tested for HIV and found to be positive. Phatiswa also tested positive for the virus.

Today, the women take their treatment and encourage others at community support groups to keep taking their medicines so that they stay well. Aziwe also challenges the stigma and discrimination that still surround HIV and has spoken about living with HIV at a church group. She says there is still too much ignorance about the virus and it sometimes upsets her. But she and Phatiswa support each other.

“I have days where I just want to cry but she speaks to me as a mother. I have good family and friends who are always there for me.”        

Aziwe explains that she values life so much more because she has lost loved ones to AIDS.

“I want to live because there are so many things that I want to achieve in life—for my mother and for myself.”

Like many young people, she wants to travel and later to work as a talk-show host on television. In the future, she wants to have a family of her own.

“I’m just a normal teenager living with HIV,” she explains.