So, tell me about your HIV status…

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It was a Saturday afternoon in 2006, and Florence and two girlfriends were planning to go to Kenyatta National Hospital to get their HIV results. The previous day, one of the girlfriends had called Florence in distress; she had found her boyfriend cheating with a girl who was rumoured to have been around the block quite a few times, and now she was worried that she had contracted HIV from him.

Florence and another girlfriend got together to accompany her to the hospital for her tests – and also took the test themselves in a show of moral support. Florence wasn’t really worried about her HIV status, though; she thought it would come out negative. Instead, she was focused on a party she was due to attend later that evening, thrown by an ex-boyfriend. They had dated in college, broken up and re-kindled their romance the previous weekend. 27 at the time and enjoying her first steady job since graduating with a degree in business administration, life was looking up for Florence.

Later that afternoon, a counsellor at the hospital pushed a box of tissues in her direction and gave her the hard news: she was HIV positive.

Eleven years later, Florence is now the communications manager for the International Community of Women Living with HIV (ICW). But back then, she didn’t tell her friends about her diagnosis. She pretended everything was okay and went for the party afterwards where she continued her denial. Then, that night, she walked into her ex’s bedroom and found him dabbing a bloody finger with cotton wool. He had accidentally sliced it with a kitchen knife. “The blood and the act of dabbing his finger made me a fall apart,” she says. It reminded her of the counsellor pricking her finger and dabbing it with a swab. “I screamed at him and blabbed incoherently for a few minutes, and ended by saying, ‘You know that’s what they did to me today and now I have Aids!’” 

The relationship was as good as dead after that. He accompanied her for one clinic visit, and that’s the last she saw of him in a long while. Thus began her journey of navigating the dating scene, and learning the whens and hows of disclosing her HIV status to potential partners.