"We must treat HIV-positive people as regular, normal people.
If you start having dating Web sites specifically for them, it will ghettoize them and make them a separate segment," says Debbie Mathew, who directs the AIDS Foundation of South Africa.
It says he is looking for a woman who is mature, has a sense of humor and would embrace his son.What it does not say - does not need to say - is that Mabeo has the virus that causes AIDS and is seeking someone who shares his HIV-positive status.Mabeo is a member of Positive Connection, the only Internet dating forum geared to people with HIV in South Africa, the country with more infections - over 5 million and counting - than any other."It makes life easier," the bearish 39-year-old salesman says with a chuckle. I still haven't found anyone I've gotten romantically involved with, but I'm carefully going through the list."AIDS is no longer an automatic killer here.As in the United States, it has become a chronic illness for those with access to antiretroviral drugs.Up to 150,000 South Africans are on treatment, well below the half-million deemed in urgent need of care but far more than a few years ago.
Life insurance is an option for some with HIV, and medical advances make it easier to bear healthy children. Despite an adult HIV prevalence rate of about 20 percent, the stigma attached to the disease remains harsh.HIV-negative people, not surprisingly, want to stay virus-free, site members say, and are likely to bolt if a partner discloses positive status.So, for the 225 South Africans who belong to the free site, it is a refuge, a safe zone where they can look for a date or a friend, as well as information on living with HIV/AIDS.Members are gay and straight, white and black, secretaries and bankers, with one other tie: access to the Internet."I just feel everyone is entitled to be loved and to love," says Ben Sassman, an HIV-negative Cape Town man who started the site in 2003 after two male friends lamented their inability to find women who would accept them."Why can't there be a site for HIV-positive people to meet?"But some AIDS experts say that while they understand the appeal, they worry it could hinder efforts to bring carriers of the virus further into mainstream society.