Stepping out of the HIV stigma
A woman who secretly lived with HIV for more than 20 years is stepping out to end the stigma that surrounds the disease.
Sophie Jayawardene was diagnosed with HIV in 1989. She told the Central Leader in February the disease was contracted from a blood transfusion or contaminated needle.
For years she hid her condition for fear of being judged, but since releasing her book Sophie's World: Journeys of the Lost Soul last year she has become increasingly upfront about her disease.
She has been visiting schools in her Mt Roskill community to give talks on sex education and HIV prevention.
"In my area everybody knows me by name or as ‘that woman with HIV' and that's fantastic," she says.
"The more we talk about it, it encourages people who are HIV positive to come forward. People don't like to talk about themselves because they are scared of judgment."
To help spread her message Ms Jayawardene is doing A Walk for Stigma & Discrimination on World Aids Day, December 1.
She will begin her walk at 9am from Dominion Rd extension in Hillsborough and will conclude in Western Park in Ponsonby.
It is a solo walk but she is inviting people to join her for stretches of support or to meet her in the park afterwards for refreshments.
A group of year 13 students from Mt Roskill Grammar have already offered to be involved in part of the walk. Ms Jayawardene spoke at the high school earlier this year and was impressed with the students' attitude. "The are not so interested in how you got it, they are more interested in how you live with HIV. They asked so many questions and in the end I left with so many hugs."