How A South African Doctor Is Using Social Media To Destigmatise AIDS

How A South African Doctor Is Using Social Media To Destigmatise AIDS

Dr. Sindi van Zyl gets by on just a few hours of sleep.

A medical doctor, she spent years working in South African HIV prevention and mother-to-child transmission at Anova health Institute. Between midnight and 6 a.m., she uses social media to answer questions about HIV and AIDS.

Her colleagues say she’s brilliant for her innovative ideas, especially on issues of HIV/AIDS, stigmatization and social media.

She describers herself as a patients’ rights activist obsessed with social media, Beyonce, Banting and giving hope to people with AIDS.

AFKInsider spoke to van Zyl and her colleagues, Dr. Musaed Abrahams, founder of Aviro Health, and Jepchumba, an African digital arts entrepreneur.

Aviro Health has designed a mobile app with the help of MTN to help nurses treat HIV patients more efficiently. It enables nurses to determine whether a patient is eligible for antiretroviral treatment, what drugs to use and when to start treatment.

Through van Zyl’s blog, people have gained vital information about the virus, and in South Africa, the need is great, Abrahams said.

Worldwide, there are 35-to-40 million people affected with HIV/AIDS, with 25 million of those in sub-Saharan Africa and 6.4 million in South Africa. South Africa is the worst-hit country in the world for HIV. More than 10 percent of South Africa’s 54 million population is infected.

“Even in the depressing landscape of health care, there’s hope in technology,” Jepchumba said. “Africa’s known as leapfroggers. We’re hackers. These doctors here are innovators in their fields.”

Van Zyl is credited with innovating the influence of social media to promote social acceptance of HIV/AIDS.

She began incorporating social media into her medical practice as a way to provide positive light and acceptance to thousands. Thanks to her blog, people have gained hope in South Africa and abroad, according to a video by StudentMediaProductions.

“I’m half Zulu, half Shona, and I’m all about HIV,” van Zyl told AFKInsider. “I love talking about HIV. Luckily I only need about four hours of sleep a night.”

Why is she passionate about HIV?

One in three pregnant women seen in a clinic in South Africa is HIV positive, van Zyl said. “If she gets medicine, the baby will be born HIV negative.”

People reach van Zyl via email, SMS, Whats App, Twitter, Facebook. Anonymity is everything in the HIV sphere, she said. “I’ve realized people want information, they want help, but the biggest problem is stigma. We are still living in a world wih a high rate of HIV stigma.”

Social media offers just the kind of anonymity people need, van Zyl said. It offers accessibility. “You can tweet Beyonce,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many Beyonces I speak to.”

Her mantra is, “HIV stands for hope is victory.” This online activist says she wants people to live with hope and not die out of ignorance. “I want everyone in the world to be able to access information,” she said in the video.

In South Africa, everone comes into contact each day with someone who has HIV, Van Zyl said. “Technology has opened up the space for so many people.”

You can email van Zyl at sindivanzyl@gmail.com or reach her on Twitter @DocSindi.