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An Oshana Region-based AIDS activist went public about her HIV status 21 years ago and has since not looked back, advocating to end stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV.

The mother of four and grandmother of ten, Anita Isaacks, who is currently a resident of Olupumbi Village, discovered her HIV status at the age of 37 in 1996.
 
She had gone for a job interview at Oshakati, and providing her HIV status was one of the requirements.

"I went to the company to ask them because I was waiting for the results. After two weeks, they did not respond to say how the outcome was, and then they said I had to go to the doctor, so I went to the doctor, and the doctor told me that I was HIV positive. When I went back to the company, they told me that I was already told by the doctor that I was HIV positive, and they could not take me in. I was feeling very bad."

Denied the opportunity to work based on her HIV status, this prompted her to go public with her HIV status in November 2002.

She decided to raise awareness about the epidemic and fight stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS.

Back in the day, HIV was regarded as a death sentence, and some families and friends did not want to be associated with anyone living with HIV.

"Even the church was against people living with HIV/AIDS, there was a family case that came into our office. This person was very sick, and then the family members decided that they were going to buy a coffin for that person, so they bought that coffin. It was in their house waiting for this person to die. It was worse than people could understand what was going on."

Despite facing stigma and discrimination, Isaacs was never deterred by the humiliation she suffered.

She then decided to further her studies and obtain an honours degree in social work from UNAM.

"My children were also graduating. My son graduated first, and then I followed. He graduated with a diploma, but when he saw that I graduated with a degree, he said he was going to continue with his degree until he achieved his dreams. One of my daughters also graduated, and she is a teacher now."

As people commemorate World AIDS Day today, Isaacs wants to remind others to protect themselves from contracting HIV.

She also addressed individuals who knew their status and advised them not to spread the virus purposefully.

"HIV is still amidst us. What we have to do is support each other. We have to know that HIV is real and is still there. Support people who are HIV positive. If you know that you are HIV negative, remember to protect yourself."

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Tonateni Haimbodi