“It Is Time for People to Collectively End the Stigma Around HIV/AIDS,” Ts’epang Mabooe

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In what has to be one of the most inspirational interviews ever, the protagonist in this tale started the conversation in just one sentence; “My name is T’sepang Mabooe and I discovered that I was HIV positive at age 14.”

In a society that ascribes meaning to everything, it is very unfortunate that people sometimes impute the wrong meaning to issues they have no clue about. At age 14, Ts’epang got the shock of her life about her HIV status.

The stereotype ascribed to a person’s positive HIV status in our society is that they are sexually immoral. Knowing that she had never engaged in such activities at age 14, the only thing that T’sepang could do was self-isolate when she learnt that she was HIV positive.

In her own words, “When I tested for HIV, I did not think that I would get a positive test result because I was raised in a society that links HIV to sexual misconduct. When the test results came back positive, I was shocked!”

She goes on to explain that her journey became harder at the dawn of each day because she felt like she did not fit in. She began to isolate herself from people who eventually found out about her status and they began to criticize and make fun of her. In her opinion, the knowledge of being HIV positive was not painful, it was the stigma attributed to the virus that made it hard to bear.

“One day as I went for my checkup – this was in 2017; I realized that a lot of young people still found it challenging to accept their HIV status. That was when I decided to go public about my story in order to spread hope to those who found it embarrassing to open up”, she says.

As hard as it was to go public about her story, she realized that she needed to do it so that she could become an example to those living with HIV/AIDS. Ts’epang intentionally decided to use her story to raise awareness about the need to end the wrong perceptions that people had about those living with HIV/AIDS. The decision to spread hope to people living with HIV was made five years after she was diagnosed and in her opinion, that was the best decision she ever made!

After a tough journey with HIV, today, 22-year-old Ts’epang Mabooe is perceived as a heroine in Lesotho. She is one of the few HIV activists in Lesotho. At this point, she finds it easier to use social media to engage with people living with HIV.

On her social media platform, she shares stories of those who live with HIV/AIDS, encourages patients to be faithful in taking their medication and consistently encourages patients to take care of themselves – both physically and psychologically. Her social media posts have given a lot of people hope and she has been invited to numerous radio shows to gain greater outreach with her message.

She reports that her biggest aim is to see people talk about HIV/AIDS without being afraid of judgment. In her own words, “Lesotho has a very long way to go with regards to eradicating the stereotype around HIV. Until we reach a point where patients can be brave enough to publicly say ‘I need to take my ARVs’, progress will be very slow.”

She closes off by saying, “My biggest advice to people living with HIV is that they should not perceive themselves as inadequate. It is possible to live a healthy and normal life even though a tiny virus lives in your body. Take care of yourself and live your truth!”

It is commendable that young people like Ts’epang use their stories to spread hope. The gruesome truth is that it may take time for the stereotype around HIV/AIDS to be eliminated. However, Ts’epang Mabooe is a living proof that a journey of a million steps starts with a single step. We wish her the very best as she takes the steps towards eradicating the stigma around HIV/AIDS!

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Grace is an uprising youth activist who uses her voice to inspire and inform. She has worked internationally as the Deputy Secretary General with Model UN Impact. This is where she advocated for youth inclusivity in the implementation of the SDGs and further launched projects such as PHAHAMA MOSALI. She is currently the youngest SDGs Ambassador for the internationally renowned Global Citizens Innovative Solutions SDGs Challenge.