18 is too Young to Die: A Letter from a Young Person Living with HIV
HIV/AIDS has been a global epidemic for three decades, claiming millions of lives across the globe annually. Most of today’s youth have never known a world without HIV or AIDS. As a child growing up with HIV I always asked myself what does it feel to live without HIV, yet my answers remain ambiguous: I wished I could live a single moment without HIV, a moment without pain, a moment without fear of death, a moment without loss, a moment when AIDS is history.
My name is Mohammed Barry, I am 19 years old, I have lived with HIV for almost 13 years and I am not on HIV life-saving drugs. Even though everyday I wake up from sleep with vigour, nonetheless I feel wrapped in pains in a dark in the middle of my frustrations, in the middle of my sadness, I noticed my pains have augmented, I tried to scribe my head against the unyielding and vicious walls of trauma in the middle of the wilderness to remember my early days without HIV, to remember those days when my blood was virgin, when my blood was free, when my blood was healthy indeed – the days before I was seven years old.
I wish I could remember those serene days without plight and pains, undeniably memories of trauma, AIDS, stigma, discrimination, prejudices, hate, fear, derision and the fight for life have eroded my thoughts and formed a bulk barrier that I have for almost 13 years struggled to break, as a teen living with HIV among his peers and in order to remember my early years as a child without HIV. But this is not stopping me from making HIV history because I don’t want YOU to feel this pain I bear. You might be wondering what has kept me going: it’s clear OPTIMISM and HOPE in the wilderness. I believe my life with HIV is a platform for me to reach out to young people like YOU half way across the globe with information about HIV and AIDS. Today I live positively with HIV, healthy and optimistic! How about you? What would you do if you were HIV positive??? Try to answer this and see.
With reference to this great day, I have decided to write you a letter deep from my heart as your mate living with HIV halfway across the globe, with sincere gratitude for the fact that I have made it to another World AIDS Day again, and indeed I will make it again. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Lights for Rights”. This theme signifies the importance of respect for human rights and plays in the response to HIV/AIDS across the globe. There is a success story to tell, which has urged me to write you this letter: the HIV infection rates in Africa have declined significantly, specifically here in South Africa, and this shows you the power of awareness and networked minds in dealing with such a developmental issue that affects the entire globe when aligned with respect for human rights.
Yet I must say I am worried… The information gap amongst young people like you and I is still huge and every single day a significant magnitude of our fellows get infected with HIV remember. About 45% of global HIV infection rates are amongst young people like you and I, and currently there are 5.4 million people worldwide between the ages of 15 and 24 years living with HIV. These figures are terrifying and huge, and they signify the amount of lack of information that prevails amongst young people like you and I in every single corner of the world: not only knowing the “ABC prevention” principles but how you apply them in real life situations. It comes back to whether YOU are really honest to yourself and learning to embrace health over other options in LIFE. Its up to you but I will tell you this: living with HIV is the most painful experience one can ever face, if I could buy freedom from HIV I would spend my whole life working for this, because I feel it and I know how dreadful it is.
In spite of the fact there are modern technologies and advancements with regards to our ability to deal with HIV and AIDS… Some still think that HIV can be transmitted through a handshake, a hug, sharing utensils, toilets, rooms, public phones, towel, sweats or even sharing the same food. This is a reality that we people living with HIV endure in many parts of the world, and it is what I see when I see that people that still bear prejudices against people living with HIV. This picture is really wrong and you can do something about it and make a huge impact: you can save 40 million people living with HIV, 18 million AIDS orphans in Africa, prevent yourself, your neighbour, your brother, your mom, your dad, your teacher, your university chancellor, your generation from getting infected with HIV today, right now, and you can support someone living with HIV as well.