By Youna Kabongo
A typical beauty contestant would choose to hide a secret which could harm her prospect of winning. But Miss Congo UK 2017 stunned the public by revealing her HIV positive status
Fine Arts student Horcelie Sinda, 21, who is to graduate this year from Chelsea College of Arts, was born with HIV. But she only found out about her status at the age of 11.
“It has certainly made my childhood different from others. Though I appeared confident, I was an emotional wreck. It took me ten years to get to where I am now and it hasn’t been easy. HIV is not a joke, it’s a serious matter,” she said.
The World Health Organisation defines the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) as a virus that affects the immune system by destroying white blood cells which are responsible for fighting the disease. It can then progress to AIDS.
Back in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, people were bombarded with information about HIV/AIDS. Science has made huge progress in tests and treatment, allowing people to live a good and long life with the disease.
Cases of HIV progressing to Aids have been reduced. However, it still remains a major health issue in the UK. According to the charity Averting HIV and AIDS, there are an estimated 101,200 people living with HIV in the UK. This is mainly because it has fallen off the radar.
Sinda has been campaigning to end HIV stigmatisation and to encourage people to get tested. Her work includes volunteering at Youth Stop Aids and ICS (international citizen services). Before the competition which took place in April, she traveled to South Africa to raise awareness.
She said that she entered the competition with just one goal in mind, to use her title to break into the black community and educate people about HIV. The kind of empathy and support that she received since “coming out” gave her more strength to go out there and not to be ashamed of who she is.
Vava Tampa, founder of the charity saved the Congo here in the UK, mentored the contestants for seven months and also deals with youth HIV in Hackney, welcomed Sinda’s move.
“It’s certainly is commendable on her part to put herself out there, and this has had a positive impact on the all community.”
Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan pledged to make HIV prevention a top priority while campaigning to become mayor.
“While treatment for HIV sufferers has improved rapidly over my lifetime, we can’t afford to be complacent about HIV prevention. We need a renewed focus on the prevention of HIV to match the huge progress made in the 1980s and 1990s,” he said in the statement to Pink News.
Sinda learned of her status when she was eleven. She was taking medicines every day and one day just asked her parents why, and they had to tell her the truth.
“This was by far the best competition. Previous winners have gone to become ambassadors of certain issues faced by our people back home. But this relates to us directly here in the UK. It has empowered many and the taboo surrounding HIV/AIDS must stop,” said Francois Tshimpuki, founder of the pageant.
Since winning the title Horcelie Sinda has attracted lots of press coverage such as the BBC. She urges people to get tested so that they can start treatment early in case they are infected.