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Source: The Global Fund

The world has cut the number of AIDS-related deaths in half since the peak in 2005. But in many countries, HIV infections remain extremely high among key populations and among adolescent girls and young women. Globally, nearly 1,000 girls and young women are infected with HIV every day.

In South Africa, the country hardest hit by the HIV epidemic, girls aged 15-19 are eight times more likely to be living with HIV than boys their age. 

On this World AIDS Day we put a spotlight on South African teens like Zandile, Sinazo, Axola, Carol, and Mivuyo – young women growing up at the epicenter of the HIV epidemic.

Zandile Yaze, 19 years old, Cape Town
Zandile Yaze, 19 years old, Cape Town

“A childhood friend of mine was born with HIV. I remember growing up we were cautioned to be careful when we played with her or share a spoon with her and so forth. In her first two years of high school she fell really ill and had to drop out of school.

The fact that girls in South Africa years are eight times more likely to be living with HIV than boys of the similar age personally makes me feel sad and to some extent very disappointed. However this is the reality we live in. What should be done about this is to try to educate both boys and girls about HIV and how the virus can be avoided, and especially let girls know that they have each and every right to say no to unprotected sex and teach boys to not feel entitled.

My hope for the future is to become a better version of myself, to never disappoint my parents and try by all means possible to achieve all goals I have set for myself. I wish to become a news anchor in business news one day. In terms of my athletic career, I wish to run in the Diamond League one day and run a sub-11 once in my life.” 

Sinazo Dafeti, 19 years old, Cape Town
Sinazo Dafeti, 19 years old, Cape Town

“I lost my mom due to HIV/AIDS when I was 9 years old. She didn’t know anything about the virus at the time, but could hear people in the neighborhood gossiping about her condition.

It’s a sad reality with our patriarchal society but one of the heartbreaking consequences we have to live with is that many of our young girls have totally NO say in what they want. Women all over the country should be taught about HIV and AIDS, and they should be more empowered about their rights as well.”

Axola Madondile, 19 years old, Cape Town
Axola Madondile, 19 years old, Cape Town

“HIV has affected two amazing women who are quite dear to me. Both my aunts were infected by their partners without knowing. My first aunt kept her status a secret for years because she feared what it would do to her kids and family if they found out. She also feared being stigmatized and ridiculed by the people in the community.

It is certainly disheartening that so many young women are exposed to HIV. There should be more effective awareness about the virus on social media platforms and in schools. Parents should be encouraged to educate their children about sex and HIV and the dangers they could encounter. There should be more discussions on how men take advantage of women in desperate situations or women who are impoverished. There should be plans put in place to end things like rape culture, and all abuse against women because these are just some of the many ways in which the disease spreads. 

I want to work with different organizations to raise more awareness about HIV and create a safe space for those who are already infected and to empower those who are still afraid to speak up and get treatment.”

Carol Mooin, 19 years old, Cape Town
Carol Mooin, 19 years old, Cape Town

“HIV has affected someone extremely close to me. My aunt was diagnosed with the virus when I was in primary school. I remember it was so hard to come to terms with the whole thing purely because of the false information and stereotypes that I knew were surrounding people who had the virus. I began to see her differently for a while. It was a tough experience for the whole family.

It’s very shocking to learn that girls and women are so vulnerable to HIV infection. Something clearly needs to be done about it. Girls should be more educated and exposed to ways to protect themselves and know the dangers and consequences of not taking the necessary precautions. 

I hope to become a successful black woman as well as accomplish the necessary goals I have personally set out for myself. These include obtaining my degree, going overseas for a while and becoming a household name within the film and media industry.” 

Mivuyo Xakeka, 18 years old, Piketberg
Mivuyo Xakeka, 18 years old, Piketberg

“Someone in my family suffered badly from HIV and it has affected me and made me respect the virus. I have actually learned to love and respect people with the HIV virus.

I feel a bit worried because HIV is killing us, the South African youth. And my worry is that it will affect the coming generation.

I hope that we as the young generation have got enough information about HIV and that we can make the right choices that will help us one day. My plan is to live my life to the fullest and to do things that I love and make me happy.” Footnotes:Photos by Justice Mukheli represented by Red Hot Ops