Communities infected and affected by HIV/AIDS have been annually commemorating the month of March as the Month of Youth Against Aids, with a common theme.
Over 60 percent of Botswana’s population is made up of a good number of youth who are future leaders. HIV/AIDS activist, Sekgabo Seselamarumo says the month of youth against aids is a special month to her as an advocate who defines an HIV activist as one who speaks boldly about HIV/AIDS related matters, raising awareness and knowledge about the virus.
She said an HIV activist does not necessarily refer to a person who is HIV positive, but may be anybody who is passionate about such issues yet having a negative status. “The month of youth against aids to me means we get to reflect on the journey we’ve come with the fight against HIV/AIDS especially as youth. Its commemoration means we get empowered and equipped with information about HIV/AIDS, be it advancement of treatment, HIV research & breakthrough and how we are generally doing as a country,” said Seselamarumo.
She explained that she usually participates by engaging in different speaking platforms where she gets to share her story as one living with HIV. “Having been on ARV’s for over 18 years now, I share my experiences about my life to give hope to people living with HIV and those who have just been diagnosed” said Seselamarumo. She emphasised that her aim is to show people that there is life beyond HIV and that they should not be limited in any way. Seselamarumo just graduated from the University of Botswana with a BSc general degree. She says ever since she went public about her HIV status in 2016, she has participated in several activities such as at the University of Botswana Health and Wellness campaign during the comemoration of the month of youth against aids.
Seselamarumo has been privileged to sit in meetings with policy makers, members of Parliament, Dikgosi, Ambassadors and high officials who have an influence in changing matters surrounding HIV/AIDS laws and policies among others. This has been some of the platforms she has used to advocate for other young people living with HIV. ” I have been part of Sentebale as a Let Youth Lead Advocate since 2018, which is a volunteer role I fulfill with all my heart. The Let Youth Lead Advocacy Programme intends to provide young people with a platform to voice the challenges of youth living with HIV and those affected by the epidemic in sub Saharan Africa.The programme aims to engage policy makers to drive positive change in HIV interventions that better support this generation” Seselamarumo said.
She gladly pointed out that society has changed over the years with the response to HIV related issues. The stigma and discrimination has reduced immensely from the early 2000s. “I was diagnosed with HIV in 2003 when I was 7 and started treatment then. I didn’t know what the medication I took everyday twice a day at the same time was for. It was only when I was 11 that my doctor started educating me about HIV and eventually told me that I was HIV positive” said Seselamarumo. She explained that life has since then been normal for her because no one knew about her HIV status until the day she went public about it in March 2016. ” I chose to select the month of March to disclose my status so that I can contribute towards the month of youth against aids. I thought people would reject me because of my positive HIV status but instead got an opposite response. The love and support I’ve received has been amazing. I’ve even made new friends who were drawn to me by my story. People who believe in me more than I believe in myself” Seselamarumo said.
She emphasised that she struggled with self stigma for a long time. However, she accepted her status when she was 14 after learning that there are other children living with HIV. “I urge the public to support their family and friends living with HIV by helping them come to terms with their HIV status. Let us unite to end AIDS by 2030 and completely end the stigma that HIV/AIDS has brought. There is life beyond HIV”.