How to choose who to disclose your HIV status to

Deciding who to tell that you’re HIV-positive can be daunting.

28 September 2016
by Meg de Jong

It’s a life-altering diagnosis – and it entails many life-changing decisions. Who you decide to tell about your HIV-positive status is one of them. Disclosure can be a tough process but sharing your status with those you love and trust can help alleviate the stress of the disease.

Drienie Van Wyk, the author of Working with HIV/Aids @ Work, a book about dealing with HIV/AIDS in the workplace, says that most people she encounters choose to keep their status private for fear of the stigma attached to it. “A lot of people keep it a secret out of fear of rejection, of being alone,” says Van Wyk.

However, Van Wyk strongly believes that only once more people disclose their HIV status will the stigma fade. “When it was seen as a death sentence, people were very scared to disclose their status because of this stigma. We have to reach the point now where it’s seen as a chronic lifestyle disease – the same as diabetes, or high blood pressure (hypertension).”

For Van Wyk this is a very important thing to consider when you're thinking about who to disclose your HIV status to. “It’s nothing to be ashamed about any more: It’s a chronic lifestyle issue, not a death sentence,” she reiterates.

Van Wyk hopes that a new drug regimen that can protect one from contracting HIV from a HIV-positive partner (called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP) will help towards banishing this outdated, damaging stigma. [See our article: HIV/AIDS Awareness: What is pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)?]

What to consider when deciding whether to disclose your HIV status

Before you decide who to trust with this personal information, take time to work through these considerations:

  • Coming to terms with your HIV status can take some time. Are you certain you’re ready for the disclosure step right now?
  • What are you expecting from the person you are disclosing your status to?
  • Why are you telling this person?
  • Do you have all the information required to educate someone who doesn’t know the facts about HIV/Aids?
  • If someone you tell has a negative response, how will you deal with it?

At the end of the day, the decision about who to disclose your status to is a personal one. Make sure that you’ve thought the decision through very carefully before acting on it.

Do you have to disclose your HIV status to your partner?

If you've been diagnosed as HIV-positive, it's very important for you to notify anyone you may have had unprotected sex with or shared a needle with so that they can be tested too.

It's not a legal obligation to disclose your status but not disclosing an incurable sexually-transmitted disease (STD) like HIV can be a prosecutable offence, if you know your status and have unprotected sex, says Verlie Oosthuizen, a partner at the law firm, Shepstone & Wylie. In 1997, pioneering civil proceedings were instituted for HIV in Venter v Nel, where a woman claimed damages from her Durban businessman lover who infected her. The matter went undefended and she was awarded R344 399 for medical expenses and general damages.

Do you have to disclose your HIV status to your employers?

No, you don't. The South African Constitution’s Bill of Rights protects the rights and privacy of people living with HIV. This means that legally you aren't obligated to disclose your status to anyone – including your workplace, place of study, or anywhere else.

Where can I go for help?

Consider contacting one of the below if you’re looking for more guidance on this topic.

  • You can reach LoveLife on 0800 121 900 or send a PLZ CAL ME to 083 323 1023, or contact them via their Facebook page 
  • Call the National AIDS Helpline on 0800 012 322

How Clicks Clinics can help you

Did you know Clicks offers HIV testing and counselling at their clinics? To make an appointment at a Clicks Clinic, call 0860 254 257 or book online at Clicks Clinics online

HIV home test kits are also available for purchase in-store.

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com

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