Saidy Brown told the world she was HIV positive – on Twitter. Her boldness shocked some and inspired others. Rather than being a victim, she chose to celebrate her life. Looking back, she never thought she would see this day. Now she radiates confidence, showing that taking care of yourself begins with loving and accepting who you are.
For years Brown remained unaware of her status. Like any young girl her focus was on school and friends. At just 14, a routine HIV test to support a school drive brought unthinkable news. Because of the misinformation shrouding the disease, she thought the only way a person could get infected was through unsafe sex. Confused and racked with guilt, the nightmare of keeping the burden to herself began. “I thought that my friends were going to be so judgmental,” Brown admits. And then she discovered that her parents, who had since passed away, had given her the virus. But knowing how critical people are no matter the cause of infection, she felt too ashamed to speak out. When her health began deteriorating at 18, she sought treatment and disclosed her status to those close to her. As her health grew stronger, so did her courage. Determined not to be defeated, she decided to take the conversation further and broke the silence that had kept her away from vital treatment. She refused to be a victim any longer, choosing instead to describe herself as a ‘HIVictor’.
Her resilience and positive attitude is inspiring a sense of worth in other HIVictors. “By looking at my story and my growth, they can find it in themselves to be more confident and love themselves more,” she says. A victim needs sympathy – a victor needs support. Her public disclosure has led to others sharing their stories online, creating a network for education and encouragement. Brown intends to start an organisation to educate young people like herself about the virus. Necessary dialogues are often halted because of fear, shame and ignorance, but with young South Africans leading the conversation, we can learn, accept and heal together.