Living with HIV is difficult enough, but disclosing your HIV status to your partner can be a very challenging and emotional process. Many people living with HIV have been subjected to rejection and hurtful reactions due to other people disclosing their status.
Disclosing your HIV status is a personal decision, and you have the right to keep it confidential. However, disclosing your status can be beneficial as it will reduce the risk of transmission and may create improved communication and understanding in a relationship. Disclosure can help reduce the stigma associated with HIV and increase knowledge and understanding about the virus.
HIV activist Viwe Gantile from Umtata in the Eastern Cape, emphasises the importance of disclosing your status to your partner but says it should not be a forced process because everyone handles it differently.
“I became an HIV activist because of the trauma of how I got infected and how the person that infected me disclosed my status by posting on social media without my consent. I lost so much weight because of stress, I also became very sensitive emotionally whenever HIV was mentioned and even developed a mental health issue,” she says.
‘Share when you are ready’
With numerous stereotypes surrounding those living with the virus, Tebogo Mothoana, an HIV activist from the Free State who went viral after sharing his journey as a person living with the virus, says that people living with HIV are not sick. He states that HIV is not a sickness, but a virus that weakens your immune system, therefore making one prone to opportunistic diseases such as TB.
“Conversations around safe sex practices, PrEP (post-exposure prophylaxis), a treatment plan, and support groups need to be normalised. Normalising these conversations can help reduce or lower the likelihood of contracting the virus and spreading it unknowingly,” he adds.
Creating a safe space
It is important to disclose your HIV status to your sex partners to enable making safer sex practice decisions, but it does not need to be forced into readiness as it is your personal information to share.
Multi-award-winning women’s health activist Lucy Khofi from Johannesburg, says it is important not to force people into disclosing their status but rather create a safe space for them to share the information.
“Individuals living with HIV are not obligated to disclose their HIV status to everyone, it is a personal and confidential matter – unless one decides to do so. However, individuals living with HIV must disclose their HIV status to their partners, boyfriends, or sex partners, even if there are not comfortable – this will help them to put in place safe and healthy measures for both in a relationship and this will help in the higher rates of HIV infections,” she recommends.
It is also crucial to understand the virus before you disclose it.
“When you disclose your status to your partner, you will enable the use of proper measures, such as PrEP and condoms all the time. Remember that you must always be protected, and by disclosing, you are also protecting yourself. When you disclose you are taking your power back! You will not succumb to this disease and die inside. Always remember that there is power in speaking out, it is just not disclosing but speaking out,” she says.
Ultimately, it is up to you to decide. Disclosure can however help to protect those around you and can assist in reducing the spread of the virus.
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