Newly crowned beauty queen Horcelie Sinda Wa Mbongo is HIV positive, and she's not hiding that fact. Instead, the new Miss Congo UK 2017 has used her platform as a contestant to speak out about HIV and stigma.
Horcelie was crowned Miss Congo UK in early April, and spoke with BBC Africa about her status and why she felt it was important to highlight HIV during her campaign in a Facebook Live video shortly after winning the pageant.
"I cried," she said of learning about her status. "I didn't know much about HIV, but I knew a little about the negative comments people made, the stigma."
Horcelie was born with HIV, but wasn't aware of her status until she was 11-years-old and already living in the UK. She was one of many children in whom the virus works slower, which means that she could live for 10 years without any symptoms or medication.
When asked if she blames her parents for her diagnosis, Horcelie, of course, said no — and that she wouldn't judge the actions her parents took that may have led to her being HIV positive.
"It's about taking courage and saying, 'It's life, it's a mistake, it's part of my life and it's time to take up the cross instead of wasting time blaming,'" she said.
More than 36 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2015, according to estimates from the World Health Organization. Yet, the stigma Horcelie mentioned still exists all around the world — which is why we need people like Horcelie speaking out, and saying that HIV is not about blame, or poor decisions, or being provocative. It doesn't make someone dirty or bad. And we need to start thinking of HIV as we would any other illness.