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Hope for HIV-positive singles

Ntsebeng Motsoeli
MASERU — Tséli is hopeful that her love life will be back to normal again, thanks to Positive Partner Services, a new dating service for HIV-positive people in Lesotho.
Since she was diagnosed with HIV four years ago she had found it difficult to meet partners. 
At first she felt she was better off without a man in her life.
She needed time to pick up the pieces and regain her strength after a long illness.
But after she recovered she felt she needed someone in her life.
True she had a family and friends but still she needed someone to love.
She did not realise how challenging it would be for an HIV-positive person to find a partner.
She was heartbroken when she was rejected by men because of her status.
She began shying away from promising relationships because she did not have the courage to disclose her status to her partners.
In the past three years she has been failing to sustain her relationships because of her HIV status.
“Men leave me as soon as I disclose my status,” she says.
“One man once told me he could not be with me because I would infect him if we had unprotected sex.”
She says some men look down upon her because of her status.
“They said no man should ever have a relationship with me because they would eventually die,” she says.
“They insulted me. It was the most painful thing I had ever felt.”
Soon she kept away from men. She would listen to anyone who wanted to have a relationship with her.
“I started fearing men. I would not stomach the rejections anymore.”
Tséli says the most difficult part was to reveal her status to someone new.
“It is very difficult to date someone who is willing to build a relationship with an HIV-positive person,” she says.
“It is very difficult to disclose your positive status to a person.”
Tséli is hopeful that she will get herself a boyfriend.
She hopes the new dating line will change people’s perceptions about dating HIV-positive individuals.
“It is time that the discrimination against HIV-positive people stops,” she says.
“They are also human beings who need to be loved.”
Khosi Makelane will never forget how a woman he hoped would be the love of his life walked out on him when he tested HIV-positive.
Malekane was widowed in 2007.
His wife died soon after their two-month-old baby’s death — both to illnesses he did not know.
He was left all alone.
He says two years after mourning their deaths he was ready to start a new relationship and before long he fell in love. 
The first few weeks of the affair were great, he recalls.
He hoped the affair would help him get over the death of his wife and child.
“When the relationship promised to be flourishing, my partner suggested that we both go for HIV counselling and testing,” Malekane recalls.
“Nothing held me back. I had nothing to suspect that I was HIV-positive.
“After all it would have been the best for our relationship.
“However we had vowed to stick by each other no matter the outcome of our results.”
Unfortunately for Malekane his results came out positive.
His partner tested negative.
The news came as a shock to Malekane and his partner.
They both had not expected it, he says.
“We were tested in different rooms,” he recalls.
“I think she saw the disappointment on my face when I came out of the testing room.
“She questioned me harshly why I looked so down.
“As I was gathering the courage to tell her, she walked away from me.”
That was not the reaction he was expecting to get from her.
“She did not keep her promise,” Malekane says.
“She walked out on me when I needed her most.”
She only sent him an apologetic message the next day.
“She apologised for acting the way she did,” Malekane says.
“But she made it clear that she would not go on with me because of my status.
“She said I should not call her anymore.
“I was so disappointed.
“I had fallen in love with her and she dumped me like she never had true love for me.
“It was so sad and heartbreaking.
“She betrayed me.”
That was just the beginning, he says.
“I was dumped three times by different women when I disclosed my status to them,” Malekane says.
“They all told me they would not be in a love relationship with someone who is HIV-positive.”
Malekane says he has since kept away from women.
He says there is nothing as painful as being rejected for one’s status.
“I have had enough of the rejections. They have hurt me emotionally,” he says.
“I would rather stay alone. No one will ever accept me with my HIV status.
“I sometimes feel so lonely. But I will learn to live with it.”
But hope is on the way for people like Malekane.
A local businessman has started a service to network people with HIV so that they can find companionship.
The co-founder of Positive Partner Services, Ingo Seifert, says the project is an easier way of helping participants to hook up with suitable HIV-positive partners.
Seifert says the objective of the project is to help participants to rebuild functional families.
He says many have failed to do so because they fear that they would be rejected because of their HIV status.
“Due to HIV and Aids many parents have lost their spouses and are ready to look for a new partner to restart a functional and happy family,” Seifert says.
“Others who know their HIV status are afraid to search for a partner in fear of having to reveal their status once the relationship becomes more serious.”
He says when the dating service was introduced two weeks ago it elicited mixed reactions.
But he says the response has been good.
“Ever since the introduction, we have had more than 20 HIV-positive people call in to be hooked up with partners,” Seifert says.
“Many people have been looking forward to this kind of service.
“They say it is much easier because they do not have to face their partners to disclose their status.
“They praised it as a long-overdue opportunity to find a suitable partner but most were not happy with the word ‘dating’.”
In Lesotho dating is mostly associated with promiscuity and it does not go well with the “One Love” campaign.
Seifert says in recent years many HIV-positive people have asked him and his colleagues to assist them with dating other HIV-positive people.
“We were very reluctant to start such a challenging project, but after receiving constant requests and conducting some research on the issue of HIV-positive dating, we decided to give it a try,” he says.
Seifert says the service is mainly for HIV-positive individuals who are looking for a partner with the same status.
He assures confidentiality and personal safety from dishonest participants looking for financial, sexual or other unwanted gains.
“We are purely looking for courageous people who are willing to share their experiences with us,” Seifert says.
To keep one’s identity secret, one should register under a fantasy name describing their character like Autumn Rose, Gospel Mum, Soccer Dad and Lonely Gay.
Avert, an international Aids charity, says discrimination and stigmatisation remain a problem.
“The ‘Know Your Status’ campaign intended to overcome the stigma and discrimination that surrounds HIV and Aids in Lesotho has not been very effective,” Avert says.
The first case of Aids in Lesotho was reported in 1986.
HIV in Lesotho is spread mainly through heterosexual sex.
The country has one of the world’s highest HIV prevalence rates.
Nearly a quarter of Lesotho’s adult population of two million is estimated to be HIV-positive.

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