By Mmapula Molapong
Disclosing one’s HIV status to their loved ones can be quiet a daunting exercise. One such person, who still hasn’t mastered up the courage to do so, is 29 year old Masego. She was diagnosed with HIV in 2014.
Masego is one of the estimated 380 thousand people in Botswana living with HIV.
A beautiful tall, slender woman with gorgeous eyes walks into my office, accompanied by her younger looking boyfriend, who then waits outside while I speak to her in private.
“I could not bring myself to tell my parents or my boyfriend about my HIV status because of fear of stigma and discrimination” She says.
However, as chance would have it, her boyfriend discovered her Anti-Retroviral Treatment ARTs in their home one afternoon. Little did she know that this would turn her love life into one of physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
“I desperately want out of the relationship, but I am afraid of him” She says.
Masego was 25 years old when she was infected with the virus. She was infected by her ex-boyfriend, whom she believes did it deliberately, to spite her since she did not want to have a baby with him.
She however did not report rape at the time or the fact that someone might have deliberately infected her with HIV.
Masego knows the consequences of having unprotected sex as there could be a re-infection, but fear of her boyfriend makes her not speak out against him. She says her boyfriend claims to care about her in public, and that is why he showed up with her for our meeting. She is also well aware of the importance of disclosing. “I know I have to disclose my HIV status especially to my partner but I was not ready and he forcefully had unprotected sex with me, I am still building up courage to open up to my parents about my HIV status and the abusive relationship that I am in.”
According to Section 184 of the Penal Code of Botswana, any person who unlawfully or negligently does any act which is likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life is guilty of an offence.
A social worker with The Botswana Family Welfare Association, BOFWA-a nationally recognized leader in Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) that ensures reproductive health including Family Planning as a human right to all individuals and families, Kefilwe Lephalo says fear of disclosure is still a huge problem in the country.
He says when a couple hasn’t tested together its difficult for them to disclose to their partners if their results come back positive because of fear of rejection, adding that people usually don’t care to know their partners’ status.
Although Lephalo says both men and women fear disclosing their status to their partners, it is women who are most fearful, as they test more often than men.
Furthermore, Lephalo says if someone doesn’t disclose their status, the assumption is that they are negative and when one becomes too comfortable they end up engaging in unprotected sex.
He admits the association often receives cases of partners who cannot negotiate condom-use because of unknown status and fear of victimisation.
He says they continue to carry out counselling on disclosure, to assist couples who cannot bring themselves to tell their partners of their HIV status, as they cannot do it on their behalf because of issues of confidentiality.
Lephalo also says for couples who are HIV positive and are in abusive relationships and cannot disclose to their parents, they link them with organisations that deal with Sexual and Gender Based Violence SGBV who will then involve the perpetrator and the support system which is family.
NB: Please note that the name of the victim has been changed due to issues of confidentiality.
Bofwa contact number is: 3900489
Kagisano Women Shelter contact number is: 3908691- The organization helps people who have gone through abuse or are still going through it.