Nancy is a hugely compassionate South African Red Cross volunteer who has made a massive difference to people living with HIV in her community. She understands completely what it feels like to be diagnosed with this disease.
“In 1994 I was very sick and when I went to the doctor I found out I had HIV,” said Nancy. “I was so shocked because I thought it was only people who had lots of boyfriends who would get it.”
“My boyfriend at the time didn’t know he had it and he blamed me and left me. It was hard for me. I got shingles and had body pains and I didn’t know what to do. Back then, there was no anti-retroviral treatment available, though I was given Bactrim which slows down HIV.
“In 2000 I became very sick, this time with TB, which I was treated for. But by 2004 I weighed only 46 kg. Luckily that year anti-retroviral treatment was introduced and I began to get better.”
Red Cross support
In 2008, the Red Cross put some posters along the road where Nancy lives in Port Shepstone in KwaZulu-Natal province. She applied and became the first Red Cross volunteer in the area, but now there are many.
“We go to the homes of people who are sick and help them,” Nancy says. “Also, we have a soup kitchen for the orphans on Wednesdays and Saturdays.”
Good nutrition is particularly important for people living with HIV as it has a big impact on the effectiveness of their medication.
Nancy has organised two support groups in her community – each has ten people and a vegetable garden so they can produce their own food.
They also get together twice a week to do needlework and arts and crafts, which they sell in the market so they can sometimes afford to buy meat and other foods.
Dealing with stigma
“I used to work at a supermarket but stopped after five years, in 2005, because of the way I was treated for having HIV,” says Nancy. “When I went to work, people didn’t want to work with me or even sit in the same seat as me because they said they would get HIV.
“There are more than 15,000 people in my community and I think many people are living with HIV. There is not so much discrimination now as there used to be, although sometimes people point at you in the street but now I just ignore them and I don’t get upset.
“On Saturdays we give HIV training for the teenagers and they are beginning to use condoms more. Generally, people in the community are now more understanding and I feel accepted.”
Read Boniswe's story: happy, healthy and living with HIV