Until March this year 18-year-old Justine Diana Goliath religiously took anti-retroviral medication, not knowing why she was taking the medicine. But to her shock and dismay the teenager’s older sister in March this year broke the news to her in the presence of her boyfriend that she is HIV positive and was born with the virus that causes AIDS. “All these years I didn’t know what the tablets were for and when I asked I was always told that I would find out when I am old enough,” she related her story to New Era.
Recent statistics from the Ministry of Health and Social Services indicate that 5 014 female children are on antiretroviral treatment countrywide, while 4 951 male children are on the same treatment. The statistics do not however confirm the number of children in the country with the HIV virus as they only show the children who are actively on antiretroviral treatment. “It was difficult, very difficult,” said the teenager who is not willing to let her HIV positive status derail her dream of becoming a “successful medical doctor”. Goliath admits that she did not always have a positive attitude towards her life and goals. Before knowing her HIV status there was even a time when she did not adhere to her medication.
“I used to ask myself what’s the point of taking these tablets if I did not know what I was taking them for,” she reminisces.
That led to several hospital admissions and readmissions. “I was in and out of hospital last year,” she adds. She claims that throughout her life she did not suspect the medication she was taking could be antiretrovirals for HIV.
“At one point I had warts on my lips and they were successfully removed through an operation. But I did not suspect anything because I was young. I was just a bit uncomfortable when going to school because I had to cover my mouth with a cloth,” she explains.
Goliath’s father died in 2014, the same year that she sat for her Grade 10 examinations. Unfortunately, she did not pass her exams.
That, she says, was a difficult time for her because it was during studying for her Grade 10 exams that her father fell ill. A few days before the Grade 10 results were released, Goliath lost the man she grew up with.
“I only grew up with him because my mother died in 2003,” she says with a sense of sadness. The last born of five siblings says that even though her father was sick, she did not suspect that he could have died of a HIV-related illness.
“My sisters kept it from me because he was sick when I was writing my Grade 10. Until now I don’t know what he died of. I was just told he died of cancer of the stomach,” she adds.
“It was really sad losing my dad because I grew up with him, so it was really difficult but I had to continue with my life.”
Last year, Goliath moved to Swakopmund from Usakos. Before, that she lived in Windhoek until Grade 9.
She relocated to Swakopmund to live with her older sister.
It is in Swakopmund where the teenager met her current boyfriend. “I met him last year December. He is (HIV) negative,” she says, adding that he is supportive of her despite her status.
She explains that when her sister found out that she (Goliath) had a boyfriend she broke the news to her about her HIV positive status in his presence.
“He took the news better than I did at the time,” she adds.
“He was fine with it. He told me that there are many girls who are like me and they are taking their medicine. I am now taking my medicine on time and we are still together,” she says.
She adds that although they engage in sexual intimacy they use protection. But knowing her HIV positive status has had its ups and downs. “Apart from feeling angry I was sad and wanted to kill myself. It was very hard just to go and collect my tablets at the clinic because I was shy,” she says. Again, her supportive sister and partner had to tell her that there was no harm in her collecting her antiretroviral medication.
“When my dad was alive I used to go and collect the medicine with him although I did not know what the medicines were for,” she says, adding that it all made sense when she found out she was HIV positive.
“I had to tell myself not to worry because I did not get the sickness from sleeping (sex). I got it from my parents, it’s not my fault,” she says, adding that she has come to terms with her status. Goliath who currently does part-time jobs says that she plans on improving her Grade 10 results next year.
“I was supposed to go to Namcol this year but my sister explained to me that there is no money so I will only study next year.”
Theo Joseph, a monitoring and evaluation officer who is also a training officer at the Positive Vibes northern bureau, says that many parents do not tell their children that they were born with HIV because it is not an easy subject to discuss.
Revealing to a child that he or she is HIV positive depends on a lot of things but maturity is one of them, adds Joseph.
“There is no specific age to tell a child that he or she is HIV positive but depending on how mature they are it can be from nine to ten years.”
Preparing the child to tell them the news is important before breaking the news, explains Joseph. “Telling a child that he/she is HIV positive can be challenging for the child but with time and preparation they get to accept their status.”
Goliath says her dream is to become a medical doctor and she will push ahead despite the odds to make that a reality.
“I want to be that person who inspires others to take their medication,” says Goliath in motivating her career interest. She is adamant that anyone can achieve their dreams regardless of HIV status.
“You can’t tell that a person is HIV positive just by looking at them. I would like to tell girls my age who are HIV positive that living with the virus is not the end of the world. Keep on taking your tablets – who knows, maybe you will be the one to inspire others to take their medication as well.”