Professional success and personal fulfillment seemed a distant dream for Mandisa Nikita Dukashe when she was growing up in South Africa. Losing her mother and abandoned by her father as a young child, Dukashe found herself working on a farm at age 12 to support her grandmother and siblings. By 19, she had tested positive for HIV and imagined her short, difficult life was nearly over.
Now, at 44, she is a happily married nurse and one of the most prominent HIV activists in South Africa. As managing director of the HIV Survivors and Partners Network, Dukashe espouses the importance of treatment and prevention and regularly spreads the word on U=U, or undetectable equals untransmittable. As part of the fifth anniversary of the movement’s launch, Dukashe helped lead an online discussion on how U=U has changed life and where the effort is headed.
“I am very passionate about community development and am a U=U pioneer in South Africa,” Dukashe says. “I am also a cofounder of U=U Africa Coalition, a movement that seeks to scale up U=U in Africa working under the Prevention Access Campaign.”
Dukashe remained booked and busy this year, completing her master’s degree in public health and publishing a book about her inspiring journey, As I Rise Above. She hopes her life serves as an example to other women living with HIV that any dream is still attainable.
“Being in a mixed status marriage also generated a lot of interest [in my life], inspiring many discordant couples and giving hope to other women living with HIV to see that finding love is possible even if one is HIV-positive,” Dukashe says.