Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
A young Waikato TikTok creator is using his popular platform to raise awareness of HIV as he comes to terms with his recent diagnosis.
In a heartfelt TikTok video, Arapuni Tāne Te Awa Mana, 21, speaks candidly about his experience leading up to the diagnosis and the struggle since.
"In the last month, I started to get really sick. I felt like I had the flu, times ten. I've lost 13kgs. My memory's been terrible, and then I started to have bumps show up in the entire space of my mouth," he says.
He went to the doctor for a check-up, and the HIV-positive diagnosis was confirmed five days later.
Despite his own challenges, he contacted the NZ AIDs Foundation the next day to seek help for himself and others in his secluded Waikato community.
Te Awa Mana is a health worker and with the support of his marae and hapori (community), he started developing an LGBTQ+ health and support service. It is due to go live next month.
Te Whare Oranga o te Puaha clinic at Ōraeroa Marae in Port Waikato will provide a comprehensive range of support services within a kaupapa Māori framework.
These will include peer support, HIV testing, treatment, and sexual health check-ups.
In the three-minute video, he speaks of the stigma attached to living with HIV and of constantly seeing males targeted and mistreated.
"Some people just don't want to be around them.
"People become conscious of anywhere you put your mouth - sometimes anything you even touch."
This pushed him to share his story publicly and encourage kindness and understanding toward people living with HIV.
"It's a topic you don't hear talked of a lot, but I guess I'm breaking that today,' he says.
"When I found out, and I didn't tell anyone, it was too much. It's a big thing to hold onto yourself."
"You honestly don't know how big the struggle is," he says.
Awhi (care) and tautoko (support) are two wishes he asks for from a generation he describes as being "more understanding, but uneducated" about the virus.
Te Awa Mana is taking medication, and though he is still losing weight because of the virus, he says he is eating healthily and feeling good.
"I'm feeling a lot better ... really good. I walk my dog in the morning and at night. I'm pretty active."
He will continue to use his social media platform, which has more than 50,000 followers, to advocate for mental health awareness, educate through entertainment, and motivate his peers.
He has a message for anyone who may be experiencing health issues and is afraid to seek help:
"Be strong. If you do feel like you have any symptoms or that gut feeling which is what I had towards the end, just go get a check-up. It's simple; the doctors won't judge you."
For further information about HIV: https://www.nzaf.org.nz/