I’ve become a more responsible person and try to talk to friends to get tested … that they can still get their tests done and regardless of the result.
In 2010, Xolela Vinqi left his small town in the Eastern Cape and came to Johannesburg in search of employment. His dreams had just begun materializing and his life was on the right track. He was employed, in love and financially stable.
But things changed with a blood test Xolela needed when he wanted a change a life insurance policy. Xolela says although he and his partner had stopped using condoms, he was still convinced that he was free of HIV. “In my mind I’m thinking ‘I know my status. I’m HIV negative’, but I got declined due to medical reasons. I knew that the medical reason was that I’m HIV positive. It was a shock to me. I took a screenshot and sent it to my partner. We talked about it when I got home; I was crying, he was crying. When Monday came we went for a couple’s test and we were both diagnosed with HIV,” he says.
Xolela says at the time he felt as though his life was over, but after counselling it was easier to accept his status. He began taking HIV treatment and learnt to manage his health.
Xolela goes to the Health4Men clinic in Yeoville, Johannesburg for treatment and regular check-ups to monitor his health. Health4Men provides discrimination- and stigma-free health services for gay men and other men who have sex with men, which include HIV combination prevention, treatment for STIs and HIV and mental health support.
For men like Xolela, the clinic is a lifeline.
Nicholas Khaula, a nurse at the clinic, says prejudice is a major barrier to health services: “From the men I see here at the clinic, I hear that some don’t want to come because they are being stigmatized. As health care professionals we need to understand—we are trained about the human body; we must be trained about sexuality and sexual orientation too.”
Xolela tries to address the fear of HIV testing among his peers. “I’ve become a more responsible person and try to talk to friends to get tested … that they can still get their tests done and regardless of the result, life is still out there.”