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BBC TwoThis World


Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 November 2005, 16:59 GMT
Cynthia: 'I just want to be a role model'
Living Positive follows six HIV-positive people, each of them on the same day, in six different parts of the world.

Thursday, 1 December 2005
BBC Two, 2100 GMT

Cynthia lives in Botswana and she was diagnosed with HIV in October 2000.

She hit a real low and attempted suicide.

But she has now turned her life around and is a passionate Aids campaigner.

She even holds the title "Miss HIV Stigma Free 2005" after winning a beauty pageant for HIV positive women.

During her 12-month reign she is carrying out activities to raise awareness and encourage testing, as well as doing her day-to-day job as a receptionist in a medical fund administrators office.

"I want people to know that HIV/Aids affects ordinary people, it affects the poor, the affluent, it affects me and you.

"I used to think the whole world belonged to me. Young and beautiful as I was, I never thought I would be infected.

"What was more I was not of the class to be infected.

"I have changed my behaviour altogether, being HIV positive has taught me the positive things in life."


In 2000, Cynthia began suffering from bad headaches and losing weight, but never thought she could be HIV.

She went to the doctor with her mother regarding an unrelated issue.

The doctor asked to speak to her privately and persuaded her to do an HIV test. Four days later, on 10 October, 2000, she went for the result. It was positive.

"I couldn't believe it really, I was confused, no not me, I'm not - maybe he's mad. I was hoping that a car would knock me over and I'd die there and then."

Cynthia told her sister Tshenolo who took her home and looked after her. Her family have continued to support her throughout.


For six months after the diagnosis Cynthia lived in utter denial. She stopped washing, eating and wanted to die.


She did not disclose her condition to her friends and went off the rails, drinking, smoking and partying - all the while abstaining from sex.

Having decided in July 2001 that life was no longer worth living she unsuccessfully tried to commit suicide with a concoction of anti-retroviral drugs and bleach.

Tshenolo found her and took her to hospital, where she remained in a coma for three days.

When her friends found out she was HIV positive many of them cut contact with her, fearing that people would think that they were also HIV positive.

In August 2001, after her attempted suicide, she decided she had to confront her condition.

She joined COCEWPA, an organisation for people with HIV, and worked as a receptionist.

She also decided she would go public about her status.


By the end of 2003 Cynthia became very ill and doctors warned her that she was near death.

The CD4 count of healthy HIV-negative adults is usually somewhere between 600 and 1,200. Cynthia's CD4 count was eight.

She was diagnosed with a cancerous tumour in her stomach but then experienced discrimination from the doctors when they refused to treat her with chemotherapy.

"I was diagnosed with a cancer, a tumour in my stomach, so I was supposed to take chemo, but the oncologist said: 'Cynthia the chemo is very expensive, so you can't take it because you are HIV positive and this is supposed to be for people who are not HIV positive, because it is very expensive.'

"So I felt like asking him whether I should just stay at home and die at home?"

She and her family managed to persuade doctors to give her chemotherapy, but after 10 days on the treatment she decided not to continue. She felt it was making no difference and was too painful.

Instead, Cynthia started to pray... and her condition improved. She became a committed Christian, and stopped smoking and drinking.


Cynthia does not know for definite from whom she contracted HIV.

She was raped by two South Africans in 1997 and wonders if she contracted it from them, or from one of the many men she slept with during her late teens and early 20s.

I feel very guilty and I keep on asking God to forgive me

She strongly suspects it was from a guy she dated for seven months in 2003. He died from Aids in 2005.

She now abstains from sex and feels very betrayed by men.

"I have experienced many things about men... some I thought loved me, but nobody stepped forward to say 'I'm sorry'."

She knows she must have unknowingly infected many people with HIV.

"I didn't know I was HIV positive, I was in denial. I never thought I would be infected.... I feel very guilty, and I keep on asking God to forgive me."

Cynthia is learning how to live with her condition and strives to campaign against the stigma and discrimination surrounding the virus.

"I want people to accept their status and live positively like I do.

"I just want to be a role model to people. I know I'm an ambassador and I just want to make a difference."

Living Positive was broadcast on Thursday, 1 December, 2005 on BBC Two at 2100 GMT.

A debate featuring the six people filmed for the programme was broadcast on Friday, 2 December 2005 on BBC Four at 1900 GMT.

Country profile: Botswana
02 Aug 05 |  Country profiles


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