Shine On: Dreya’s story

When I was around 12 or 13, we started getting educated on HIV in school. That’s also when something clicked that I had relatives who must’ve been HIV positive, including my mom. It’s also what she passed away from and it’s not something I shy away from. It happened. It’s life. I am not ashamed of what she died. She was a lovely person and a beautiful woman. Back then it wasn’t as it is now. Today, it’s something that can be treated and ARVs are much better.

I was around 18 but still in high school when I wrote a story. I created my own characters and I centred the story around an orphan who lost his parents to HIV. Back then this wasn’t a cliché but it was a reality. Through this story, I got noticed. I think people were touched by it and that was how I started volunteering at HIV organisations and I did it wholeheartedly.

It was in rural areas, mostly taking food from sponsors to orphans and handing out condoms to adults. We would also go to help out with things or just be with them, sit, talk and educate around HIV. This is how I became associated with these organisations. Not knowing that later on, in my future, this knowledge was going to work to my advantage.

In my early 20s, I got sick and my body basically collapsed it was so weak. I went to consult a doctor, which was when I found out I had abdominal TB and learned about my HIV status. It was a shock but I was able to process it because of my HIV volunteer work. I knew that ARVs work and that I can live. I just had to accept the fact that, from then on, I would have to live on medication and that it is important.

It’s just one pill that you take every single day.

As an adult, I naturally gravitated towards the role of healer and a person my friends confided in about personal problems. Even before I was positive myself, I’ve always been that person that people would come to talk to about HIV and the things that go with it. I suppose my outlook on life and how I go about life as a positive person about my status also must play a role in how safe people feel or why people trust me.

I live my life unaffected by HIV. Look at me, I’m healthy. I’m fine. I can walk into a club and I can go dance, have fun, drink. I’m the life of the party! I can even take my meds when I’m in the club. Just a quick pill pop and I’m done!

I still have so many things I want to achieve. I want to counsel and teach. I want to speak, stand proudly and say “Look, this is who I am. I’m living. I’m happy. This hasn’t taken away anything from me. I’m still the same person. I still speak the same. I still dress the same. I still go out the same.” The greatest thing I want to do is settle down with a partner and go travel together.

For guys who recently found out about their status, I want to say that HIV is not a death sentence. It actually isn’t that bad as long as you take your ARVs regularly and stay on them. It’s just one pill that you take every single day. And that’s it…

Read More

Celebrities come out in support of PrEP

South African celebrities, Moshe Ndiki and Bujy Bikwa, are backing a much-needed new project that provides free HIV prevention pills, known as PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), to men who have sex with men (MSM).

PrEP is a pill that prevents HIV negative people from getting HIV (proven to be 99% effective if taken daily) and is one of the free services offered by Engage Men’s Health in the Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City metros. These services are provided through a clinic in Melville, Johannesburg and mobile outreach teams in all three cities.

Both Moshe and Bujy, who are openly gay actors, presenters and media personalities, believe that the word needs to get out about this game-changer in HIV prevention. It’s especially relevant to MSM who are at higher risk of HIV infection and often face stigma and discrimination at mainstream facilities.

The Engage Men’s Health #PrEPup campaign is a very personal one for Moshe. “This means a lot to me! It is much more influential when someone who is gay passes the message on to other gay people, and society at large, to educate them and make them more aware.”

He feels that PrEP represents a new kind of freedom for gay, bi and other MSM. “It’s always good to know that we are safe, generally as human beings but also in our relationships when partaking in sexual activities with our partners. It’s one thing to not feel free outside because of societal issues but it’s another to not feel free in your own bedroom as well because of the fear of HIV.”

Bujy got involved in the #PrEPup campaign to help make a difference in his community. “This is a revolution! For decades we have been fighting for the right to breathe, the right to exist and most importantly to live a longer inspirational life,” Bujy says. “PrEP means that as a gay man you can protect yourself and not wait to be infected by the virus. A pill a day and you do life!”

The #PrEPup campaign is also being supported by the influential Feather Awards, which hosts an annual much-talked-about celebration of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community and its allies. The Feathers, Moshe and Bujy, will be regularly sharing the #PrEPup message to their large base of social media followers – giving them the facts about PrEP and where to get it.

Dawie Nel, Director of Engage Men’s Health, believes that sharing this information through personalities makes a lot of sense. “Stigma, fear and lack of awareness are hampering the fight against HIV. Having proudly gay personalities speaking out not only helps educate the public about PrEP but also makes a significant dent in the shame that many MSM feel about their sexual behaviour or identity. Lifting this stigma makes it more likely that they will seek out welcoming services like Engage Men’s Health,” says Nel.

Gay, bi and other MSM who want to find out how to get PrEP and other sexual health services can call or Whatsapp 082 607 1686, search on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or visit www.engagemenshealth.org.za.

Read More

Extended opening hours for Joburg clinic

We’re making it easier for you to get what you need!

We know that it’s not always easy or convenient to get to our clinic during the day, that’s why we’re extending our Melville clinic opening hours on selected days.

From 28 August to 28 September 2019, well be open:
Wednesdays and Fridays: 08:30 till 20:00
Saturdays: 09:00 till 17:00

Mon, Tues & Thurs remain the usual times: 08:30 – 16:30

Call 010 500 0934 to book for free PrEP, HIV testing, ARV and TB screening and more!

Read More

Shine On: Wade’s story

I’ve been living with HIV for over two years. I was diagnosed with HIV on 29 March 2017. I found out after a friend informed me that he had tested positive for HIV. I knew I would need to be tested too, and we rushed to the emergency rooms where a doctor used a rapid HIV test to determine my status.

I’ll never forget the day I was diagnosed. My heart was hitting my chest so hard I thought it would break my ribs. I saw those dreaded two lines appear right in front of me – I knew this meant I was HIV-positive. I remember feeling scared, I thought I was going to die. I never knew much about HIV/Aids and the doctor didn’t offer me any kind of post-test counselling. I went home and immediately started doing research and self-educating myself on this human condition.

Telling my mom that I am HIV-positive was probably the hardest part of this journey. I knew it would hurt her, I knew it would disappoint her; I am her only child. Coming out as HIV-positive [was] 100 times worse than coming out as gay. She went to bed and didn’t say much, she said she needed to process it. It took her a while to come to terms with my diagnosis. She felt guilty that she wasn’t able to protect me. I tried going into education mode, trying to tell her that I was still going to live a normal life, but at the time I still knew very little about HIV/Aids.

If you are HIV-positive and reading this; don’t give up! There is life after an HIV diagnosis.

I thought I was going to die then but people living with HIV who take their ARV treatment are expected to live normal, long and healthy lives. I also thought I would never find love or have a sex life again. But we now know that ‘U=U’ (undetectable = untransmittable) means that a person living with HIV, who takes ARVs and maintains an undetectable viral load cannot transmit the virus to their sexual partner(s). U=U is based on science and supported by many international medical organisations.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked on dating apps if I was “clean”, and how many times I’ve had to explain that although I am HIV-positive, I’m not “dirty”. It’s stigma and it simply refers to the negative attitudes and beliefs (often erroneous ones) about people living with HIV.

We have seen more awareness about HIV/Aids in the LGBTQ community, but I still think we need to do more. Despite our access to the internet, social media and numerous campaigns addressing HIV/Aids, we do not seem to be grasping basic concepts. In a country ranking first in the world for the prevalence of HIV/Aids, our health literacy efforts should be reviewed.

We need to encourage young sexually active adults to test for HIV regularly. HIV self-testing will open the door for many more people to know their HIV status and find out how to get ARV treatment. We also need to have more conversations about U=U. All people living with HIV have the right to meaningful and accurate information about their social, sexual and reproductive health.

If you are HIV-positive and reading this; don’t give up! There is life after an HIV diagnosis. I wish the best of luck to you and your healing process. Let go of the judgement. Continue to look after yourself and most importantly, forgive yourself and others. Remember to take your ARVs daily, it is lifesaving!

It’s easy, free and effective! Contact Engage Men’s Health for free HIV testing, treatment and ongoing support to make sure you continue to Shine On! Melville, Joburg: 010 500 0934 | Port Elizabeth: 010 534 8428 | East London: 010 534 8366

Read More

Shine On: Gerald’s Story

I grew up in Zimbabwe and came to South Africa in 2006 as the economic problems we had were too hectic. So the main reason I came here was for better job opportunities and the hope of a better life. The other significant reason was that obviously life in Zimbabwe for gay people was not very good. Being gay was something you had to keep under wraps from the world and couldn’t practice. This has improved a little subsequently but not by much.

I arrived in South Africa when I was 21. Though I had some family here, it was terrifying initially. At first, I didn’t mix with gay people and suppressed my sexuality. After I got my first job, I made friends who introduced me to a few bars who were gay-friendly. Gradually I integrated with gay people when I realised that it was a lot freer here for LGBT people and legal too.

My initial knowledge of responsible or safe sex was the minimum. I did know that you need to use a condom to avoid HIV but that was that.

A few years later, I was seeing someone and only after we had been seeing each other for a while did he tell me he is positive. He urged me to get tested. Only later did I realise he had known his staus for a while but withheld the information from me. When I went for the HIV test I was informed that I am positive. I was disappointed, felt betrayed and very hurt because I trusted him. I also was disappointed in myself for not being more responsible.

In the initial phase, after I found out, I removed myself from the scene and didn’t feel sexual at all. I had dreams about HIV and it was a scary time because I knew it’s incurable. I stressed about what my health would be like in a few years to come. Did I just recklessly cut my own life short? I made some lifestyle changes to live healthier. I knew that I had to live a certain way if I wanted to live. I knew nothing about ARVs (HIV medicine), but with the counselling, I understood much better.

I still live a full life. I can do everything that I always did before. Nothing changed.

These days you go onto ARVs immediately when you get a positive result, but in those days you had to wait for your CD4 (infection-fighting cells) to drop to 200 before they initiated you on treatment. I’m glad it has changed because it’s horrible to wait till your immune system drops to that level and then having to get your CD4 up again when you start treatment.

I heard a lot of things about side effects which frightened me, but I didn’t experience any side effects.

What makes it easier is having support, because if people understand what you’re going through, then they will know how to treat you and they are more sympathetic. I’ve been lucky in that the people I disclosed to have not been negative about it or rejected me. Their support was amazing.

I haven’t had major problems with disclosing to partners, but it can still be difficult when you just meet somebody because you do not know what their reaction will be. Disclosing is different with every person. When I meet people, I first want to get to know them before having sex. But when the situation or vibe feels like we are going to be sexual, that is when I bring it up and discuss it.

Most guys have been very accepting, but some got nervous or scared after I disclosed. I do not blame them, I think it’s a natural reaction to get worried. Once I have informed them and educated them a bit on the topic they relax and we continue to play safe.

I have a group of positive friends now and we help each other to be adherent (stay on treatment). We remind each other when we drink or party, We support each other and it makes the whole initial scary phase doable.

I hope that by coming out in the Shine On campaign that I can help other people because I have been on both sides. So many guys I know feared to go for the test, they didn’t know their status and then later would get a positive result. And I’ve seen what it can do. I want my story to motivate people to go and test.

I still live a full life. I can do everything that I always did before. Nothing has changed. The only thing that has changed is that I take one pill before I go to bed. That’s it! I’m planning for my future and I want to be successful in my work. I also want to be married at some stage, settle down and have a home with someone. Just not now, I still have lots of time to do that!

The Shine On campaign promotes that getting and staying on HIV treatment will keep you healthy. It can also lower your HIV to undetectable levels which means that the virus cannot be passed on to your partner or partners.

It’s easy, free and effective! Contact Engage Men’s Health for free HIV testing, treatment and ongoing support to make sure you continue to Shine On! Melville, Joburg: 010 500 0934 | Port Elizabeth: 010 534 8428 | East London: 010 534 8366

Read More

Clinic for Men who have Sex with Men now open in Johannesburg

A new clinic for Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) serving the City of Johannesburg is now open and offering its services in Melville.

The Engage Men’s Health clinic is funded by the United States Presidents’ Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in collaboration with FHI 360 and OUT Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender (LGBT) Well-being.

The clinic forms part of a comprehensive health and HIV-related service, which includes the Melville clinic as well as outreach / mobile services in the City of Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay, and Buffalo City.

According to UNAIDS, the HIV prevalence amongst South African MSMs is 26.4%. The high prevalence stems from risky sexual practices as well as societal stigma. In a 2016 survey, it was found that 72% of South Africans believe that homosexuality is morally wrong, which makes it common for MSM individuals to feel shame and the need to hide their behaviour and identity. They may delay seeking health care because they anticipate judgement and can even be refused health care.

Dawie Nel, Director of Engage Men’s Health, says: “One should not underestimate the impact of stigma on health behaviours. It is very difficult to access MSM clients because they fear discrimination or simply have abandoned positive health behaviours.”

The Engage Men’s Health services include HIV testing, the provision of Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) and Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), screening for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and Tuberculosis, and will also provide condoms and lubrication.

The clinic is located at the “27 Boxes” centre on 4th Avenue in the vibrant Melville area, and is open every weekday and on Saturday mornings. Mobile services will also be provided in all seven regions within the City of Johannesburg; focusing on MSM hotspots and after-hour service provision. All services are free and confidential.

For more information or to book an appointment at the Engage Men’s Health clinic in Melville, please call 010 500 0934.

Read More