7 things you didn’t know about: HIV


South Africa has the most HIV cases in the world, with 7.1 million people living with the disease. While this is an alarming figure, the country has made great strides in raising awareness about HIV and getting people to test over the years.

Dr Sindi van Zyl is passionate about spreading the message that whatever the outcome of your HIV test is, it isn’t the end of the world.

She is equally as passionate about encouraging people to take control of their own health, a topic she will be speaking on as one of the speakers at the EmpowaWomen in Health and Wellness Summit which will be taking place later this month.

“Medicine is a team effort and my talk is going to be around how eating better can change your life and I am specifically going to speak about non-commutable diseases ,” she said.

Van Zyl said such summits are important as they promote “a new way of thinking."

To help spread this new way of thinking, she shared seven things you might not know about HIV. 

1. It is possible to have unprotected sex with an HIV+ partner

"#U=U means that if someone is taking their medication properly, and their viral load is suppressed, that person is able to have unprotected sexual intercourse without infecting their partner. This is an important thing for people to know because it changes how they feel about themselves. They can now conceive naturally and there’s no need for them to resort to IVF."

2. We have access to great treatment in South Africa

"Despite a history of medication that came with serious side effects South Africa now has access to the latest medication which the public has access to."

3. HIV is no longer a death sentence

"It was in the past but it’s not any more. People need to know that," says van Zyl.

4. It is possible to be living with HIV, and still have a child

"If you take your treatment properly, and make sure your viral load is suppressed, you can go ahead and have a baby. I know a lot of people who are living with HIV have felt there’s no use in trying to have kids because you’re going to die anyway and your baby mustn’t be born with HIV. That is something in the past. We are in a new era now where we have access to medication and we can make sure a pregnant HIV-positive woman can give birth to a healthy, HIV-free baby."

5. Treatment can be as simple as one pill a day

"A lot of people worry about the number of tablets one has to take but we’re now in an era where we can combine the tablets, so you don’t have to take seven tablets in the morning and seven tablets at night. Most people are able to take one tablet a day."

6. PrEP is available for anyone who believes they’re at risk of HIV infection

"PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is not about being promiscuous - that’s a myth. PrEP is for anyone who thinks they’re at risk of HIV infection and wants to protect themselves. It is available through medical aids. If you’re a cash patient, you need to get a prescription from your medical doctor. At the moment, PrEP is available in the public health system for sex workers, men who have sex with other men and, hopefully, in the future, it’ll be available on more campuses around the country. It is available on a few campuses now. If you’re HIV negative, and you believe you are at risk of infection, you can take PReP to protect yourself from contracting HIV."

7. It is always better to know

Knowing your status is better than not knowing because, if you know your status, we can help you and start you on treatment and, if you have an undetectable viral load, you’ll live a long life - your lifespan will be like the lifespan of everyone else. If you don’t know your status, we can’t help you. 

Dr Sindi van Zyl is one of the speakers at 2019 EmpowaWomen in Health and Wellness Summit which will take place at The Maslow Hotel in Sandton, Johannesburg, on September 26.