Wade Schaerer always thought HIV/Aids was something that affected “other people” – until the day he tested positive for the virus.
His life changed in a heartbeat, he says. He felt like he had a gun to his head, that he had been handed a death sentence – but that was four years ago. It hasn’t been easy for the 28-year-old Joburg man to accept his status but he’s made peace with it. Now he wants to try to inspire and educate others.
It all started when I had unprotected sex with a friend in Johannesburg in March 2017. As an airline cabin crew member, I clocked in at work as usual and flew to Gqeberha (then Port Elizabeth). When I returned to Johannesburg, I got the news that would change my life.
I switched on my phone and saw I had 82 missed calls from the friend I had been sleeping with.
He called me again, and said, ‘Hi Wade, I just found out that I’m HIV positive and I think you should get checked too.
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I didn’t know much about HIV until I was diagnosed. It was scary. I didn’t immediately have any support, I didn’t get any kind of counseling or anything like that. I was so shocked. I just couldn’t believe it.
Then I went for a test and found out I was HIV positive too. Learning that left me shaken but after the shock of it all had sunken in, I was determined to find purpose.
When I was diagnosed, I was 25 and I didn’t know much about safe sex or HIV or any of that, so I decided to start Positive Vibes. It’s a community platform to teach people about HIV by providing them with information and interacting with people and talking about the virus.
Life with HIV is so much better when you accept and learn to live with it – that’s what I always tell people.
The advice I give to a newly diagnosed person is to get ARV (antiretroviral) treatment, to forgive yourself and the person who gave it to you, and to accept it as your reality. I’ve had to do those things for myself too.
When I was a young kid, my father was shot by his best friend during an argument. I searched for this person for years because I had so many questions. I imagined that when I found him, I would lash out at him. When I did track him down, I had this overwhelming feeling of forgiveness, so instead of fighting and asking him a lot of questions I told him that I forgave him and that’s how I came to terms with my father's death and accepted it.
When I was diagnosed, I remembered the feeling I had when I had forgiven the man who shot my father. I had to forgive [my friend with HIV] because it’s not like he did it on purpose; he didn’t know he had it. We have a lot of undiagnosed cases in South Africa.
In late 2019 I shared with my Twitter followers the news that my blood results revealed that I had an undetectable viral load, which means HIV cannot be detected in my blood.
My latest blood results can't detect #HIV in my blood. I am living proof that #ARV treatment works! I have an undetectable viral load, this means that HIV is not a threat to my health & it also means that I can't transmit the virus! Follow the science, not stigma! #UequalsU pic.twitter.com/vbBK7XBYyc— Wade Schaerer (@positivevibesza) January 8, 2019
I am living proof that ARV treatment works. HIV is not a threat to my health. Follow the science, not the stigma!
I do still have my bad days though, but I also continue to live. Life is still normal, and people need to know that. Live your life.
Sex is natural, it’s part of life so we can’t feel ashamed of HIV just because we had sex. Back in the day, people were scared because they thought they could catch it by touching someone. But now so much has changed, there’s so much information, you can even test yourself at home.
My aim now is to educate people and make them realise HIV isn’t a death sentence – it’s a way of life. And the sooner you accept it and get on with your life, the better.