MANY children born with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) have managed to conquer the stereotypes associated with HIV as many African countries continue to record more success stories than ever before.
For many years, since the first person was diagnosed with the virus in the 80s in Lesotho, discussions about a time when children born with the virus would grow-up and start asking questions did not dominate HIV and AIDS forums.
In fact, in many Sub-Saharan African countries, such children were not expected to live long, thanks to strong global scientific research programmes and various treatments, many children born with the virus have managed to live healthy and productive lives with strong indications that they will live longer.
Kananelo Khalla is one of the people born with HIV, some 23 years ago. He refused to let the HIV status steal his dreams and joy by defeating the stigma that almost destroyed his life as a child. Today he is a powerful Youth Ambassador at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) in Maseru.
He has learnt the importance of adhering to the Dos and Don’ts of healthy living, secrets he openly shares as the EGPAF Youth Ambassador.
Over the years, he has become a master at avoiding opportunistic diseases through adhering to his treatment, exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet and living a stress-free life, not controlled by what people negatively say or think about people living with HIV.
“Times have passed when I used to think that I was the only one living with HIV. I was a child then, now I believe if it were not for my status, I would not eat healthy, I would not mind a lot what I do. I am lucky that I take good care of myself all the time. It is so rewarding,” Mr Khalla said.
As someone born with HIV, someone who had no control over the infection, he is not bitter because this is the only life he has known. “I am passionate about programmes that work to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child. Such initiatives recognize the rights of the unborn baby to be born without HIV. I did not have that opportunity, but I am not bitter and would want many children to be born without HIV.”
Mr Khalla understands the important role played by support groups, in saving the lives of those that are hard on themselves and suffering depression. He said when he was growing up, organisations such as Baylor College of Medicine, Children’s Foundation and Sentebale played a critical role in providing counselling and support.
In 2016, Mr Khalla decided to do advocacy work in the areas of HIV and AIDS by opening-up about his status to support people born with the virus.
“At the 2016 AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa, I spoke about my status and it was such a relief for me to let the whole world know and motivate others like me not to be so hard on themselves because being born with HIV does not make anyone less human or unable to achieve your dreams as long as you become its master.”
Mr Khalla wants to work with young people that are not living with HIV.
“It is important for all young people to be aware of HIV and protect themselves. Prevention remains the best medicine. To those infected, hope is not lost if they maintain a healthy lifestyle which should be a prescription for a happy life for everyone.”