A young woman of determination tackles HIV stigma

Frontline AIDS/Africaid/2019
Rumbie is determined to help empower young people living with HIV

Rumbie hit rock bottom when people in her community disclosed her HIV status without her consent. Here, she explains how being part of the READY+ programme has helped her use her experience as a platform to inspire others.

They [members of the community] used my status against me. I got into bouts of depression – two weeks not eating, not leaving the house, not bathing, not doing anything. It was just a very sad and pathetic situation.

Some individuals had to intervene; they decided that they were going to do an anti-stigma campaign. They would do different things so that I would come out of the house but I was just suicidal by that time.

Later I realised that those same people who were saying bad stuff about me because of my status are now coming to me and saying that they are too shy to go to the health facility to take medicine. I realised that I could actually use that as a stepping stone.

Touching the lives of others

For me personally, it was like I knew my [HIV] status but I was in denial. I really wanted to be like everyone else. I stopped taking my medication when my mum passed on, that was around 2008, only to resume when I became a Community Adolescent Treatment Supporter (CATS), around early 2017. That was a period of around eight or nine years not taking medicine, and luckily I never fell ill.

An incident that really triggered me was when a beneficiary that I was working with passed on because he had defaulted [on his HIV medication]. I thought that I didn’t want to go the same way, I immediately resumed my medicine. That was the starting point.

Becoming a CATS was like an employment opportunity. Soon after finishing school you want to get a job and so I got a job. But I later realised that I was able to change lives. I was able to talk to a young person and make a change.

With the help of Africaid [a READY+ implementing partner], I have been engaged in different youth forums where I openly talk about who I am, meeting with young people. I really feel like I own the space and it has been a very good thing for me. Each time I talk openly about my status, I feel like I am relieving myself of some weight. You realise that you are touching the lives of so many people by just using your own life experience.

Understanding is key

Bitterness is one of the major reasons why most young people stop taking their medication. [They think] why me? Why am I supposed to be taking this medication every day? Why not someone else?

Then there are the side effects of medication, you realise that I’m dizzy, I’m sleepy, I’m tired.  There is also the issue of pure overload. Most young people, they are having opportunistic infections. If they have TB or meningitis, they also have to take medicine for that. These young people are tired of taking a ton of pills and so they stop.

You also have the issue of employment. You find that most young people have to go and work as domestic workers or maybe want to be in the military or the catering world. Once they [employers] realise that you are HIV positive, you don’t get the job.

Most people are not comfortable having a young person who is living with HIV caring for them and looking after their baby. They still have that mentality that they may infect the family and everything else. So the young person decides to just stop the medicine because they want to keep their job, especially in an economy like this.

A clear ten-year plan

In ten years to come, by then I will be called Dr Rumbie! I am currently studying psychology, so I think I will first finish my degree then move on to maybe a Master’s in Public Health and then I will get a PHD in something else.

I think I should have my own biography! Maybe a book that is top-selling about my life history and going out there to assist other young people. I will maybe create a foundation for young black women or for young women in general who are living with HIV who are failing to sustain themselves, failing to be who they should be.

And I especially want to work with key populations, I have a soft spot for key populations.

About our programme

Before joining Africaid Zvandiri as an intern, Rumbie was a community adolescent treatment supporter with the READY+ programme which is part of a portfolio of programmes designed to build Resilient and Empowered Adolescents and Young people (READY).

The first phase of the four year programme (2016-2020) worked with and for over 27,000 adolescents and young people living with HIV in Mozambique, eSwatini, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Its focus was on increasing access to holistic care and support: promoting not only sexual and reproductive health and rights but also mental health in order to foster resilience.

The programme will continue to build on this work during phase two, expanding its reach into Angola, Malawi and Zambia, and increasing focus on youth-centred action on gender norms transformation, advocacy and movement building.

Further Reading


Adolescent girls and young womenREADYSexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR)Zimbabwe