Now 15 years old, Avelile* was born before ARVs were made available to expecting mothers living with HIV to protect their unborn babies from contracting the virus.
As a result, Avelile was born HIV positive. She also lost both her parents at a young age.
She is now in the care of family member Makhiwa Maxhakana, who says the family is proud of the young woman that Avelile has become.
Maxhakana credits the work of international medical humanitarian organisation Medicines Sans Frontières with helping Avelile and the family understand that HIV was not a death sentence.
“Medicines Sans Frontières was doing a great job about HIV in the province in the early 2000s (and) that was what made us understand that being HIV positive was not the end of life,” Maxhakana told OurHealth. “You can live with this and take your treatment for many years like my child.”
“I hear that there are people who have been on ARVs for many years and now their HIV viral load is undetectable, (which) shows that constant treatment use is good,” she added.
Viral load measures the amount of HIV in a person’s blood. A person’s HIV viral load is said to be undetectable when it falls to very low levels, making them less likely to transmit the virus to others.
It is important to note that although a person’s HIV viral load is undetectable, they are still living with HIV and will continue to test positive for the virus. People on ARVs should have a viral load done at least one a year.
Always on time for ARVs
Nurse Thembakazi Mgwebi works at the local clinic and says Avelile and her caretaker never fail to collect her ARVs.
“I am proud of this child since,” Mgwebi said. “Since I started in this clinic in 2007, (Avelile) has never missed an appointment to collect treatment.”[quote float=”left”]“Since I started in this clinic in 2007, (Avelile) has never missed an appointment to collect treatment”
“(Her guardian) is a caring person who is always available to support the child,” she added.
Teachers at Avelile’s school say she has near perfect attendance, and that her schoolmates accept her and her status.
“This student of mine is great to have in my class,” said teacher Louisa Ndebe, who added that teachers regularly speak about HIV to pupils. This may have helped Avelile’s peers to accept her.
“Luckily, there is not one child that we have ever heard discriminate against her and her status,” she added.
Avelile is grateful for ARVs and says she hopes that no baby has to be born with HIV.
“I am happy that I am alive,” said the teen. “I count myself lucky because others like me are no more but I am still alive.”
“I wish that no mother will ever let her unborn child be infected by HIV like me because now there is a programme to prevent that.”
*Surname withheld to protect the child’s identity