“It’s strange how the worst day of your life often starts just like any other,” Wade Schaerer says. “It’s a day I’ll never forget – March 29th, 2017.”
It was the day he found out he was HIV-positive.
“I had just landed back home in Johannesburg. I turned my phone on and saw 82 missed calls,” he recalls.
That’s when he knew that something was wrong.
“A friend who I had sex with told me that he tested for HIV and the result came back positive . . . I clutched at my chest, hoping that my heart would stop racing.”
Wade, who’s a cabin crew member, then raced to the hospital with a friend to do the blood tests.
He just recalls seeing two lines in the results and a nurse saying, “Wade your tests are reactive, you are now HIV-positive.”
“In 15 minutes my entire world had changed,” he tells YOU.
But instead of wallowing in self-pity, Wade decided to forgive himself and the person who infected him with the virus.
“Shortly after my diagnosis I made a promise that I was going to do something.
“I was going to challenge ignorant attitudes and speak up about living with HIV by sharing my personal story and hoping to break the stigma,” he said.
Wade has since redefined his life, found a new purpose and is preaching positivity.
The people who saw him shine are now his chosen family, he says.
He’s always spreading a positive message on social media and talks openly about his status and spreading the love.
“It’s really hard to have strangers come up to me and say, ‘I look up to you’ or ‘I’m so proud of you’.
“This is because I don’t have the people that I wish for the most – saying, we are proud of you, we are posting about #UequalsU on our social media, we are walking this journey with you.”
It hasn’t been an easy journey but Wade also went through tough times as a teenager identifying as gay.
But 2018 was rather difficult for him.
“I experienced true ostracism when the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) grounded me.”
He says he had to fight for his rights to work as cabin crew and to choose an ARV treatment regimen best suited for him.
“My decision to disclose my HIV status to the SACAA saw me grounded for months, with a loss of income as a result,” he explains.
“I was subjected to a battery of medical tests including a neuro-psychological examination that required me to draw shapes and memorise a sequence of numbers. It made me feel like I was in Grade 1 again.”
“I didn’t hit my head, I have HIV,” he stresses.
Wade believes there’s a still stigma attached to the condition, often as a result of ignorance about how HIV is transmitted and what it’s like to live with it.
“It’s truly a public health concern.”
He’s also passionate about raising awareness that “undetectable = untransmittable”.
“It means that a person living with HIV who has an undetectable viral load can’t transmit the virus to a sexual partner,” he explains.
“For many people living with HIV, the news that they can no longer transmit HIV to the people they love is life-changing and that’s at least one step forward to overcoming stigma!”
He also encourages people who are living with HIV to start and stay on ARV treatment.
“I post the results of my viral load blood tests on social media. It shows that the HIV virus can’t be found in my blood, again proving the U=U message.”
He’s also an advocate of people getting tested regularly and starting ARV treatment immediately upon testing HIV-positive.
“I now manage a team of cabin crew on board the aircraft.
“I enjoy exploring my creative side. I enjoy community engagement activities and I also volunteer a couple of hours a month at a social service organisation.”
Wade runs his social media, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the handle @PositiveVibesZA and will be launching his website soon.
He says he’s met a lot of people through his activism.
“And they all had one thing in common: they all wanted validation. Every single person you’ll ever meet shares that common desire.”