It shows they don't know how to deal with young people

It shows they don't know how to deal with young people

“Unbelievable how much we have in common!” Joy (19) from Nigeria and Brenda (26) from Uganda only just met but became good friends already. Both of them are fully committed to help other young people living with HIV in their countries. “Nobody should go through what I have gone through in my life.”

Joy: “How did you find out that you are living with HIV?”

Brenda: “My mom died when I was two years old, but the cause of her disease was something we couldn’t talk about. As a child I was sick very often, and I was taking medication every day, but I didn’t know why. When I was fourteen the rumours started. I heard people whispering that I was going to die. What did they know that I didn’t? It made me feel so scared. After an open conversation with a friend of our family and a visit to the clinic, everything fell into place; I was born HIV positive. My world collapsed, and I had so many questions. Fortunately, my dad has always supported me.”

Joy: “How nice your dad could be there for you. My experience is so different. Until today I’ve never been able to talk about it with my family. I only discovered my status two years ago when my sister told me that the pills I was taking all those years were HIV medication. My mom died when I was four. I suspect HIV being the culprit, but this was also something we couldn’t discuss.”

Until I was fourteen I didn’t know why I was taking those pills every day

-Brenda (r)

Brenda and Joy posing

Brenda: “For a few months I kept my mouth shut. At the same time, it also gave me strength to finally know what was going on and I learned more and more about the disease. At some point I decided to tell everyone in my school that those scary stories about HIV are not true. At first, they were skeptical and made fun of me but soon they appreciated my honestly and courage and believed me.”

Joy: “You are so strong! Maybe I also could’ve done it if I would’ve had more support. I was too shocked after the news and couldn’t look at myself again in the mirror. Only when I became part of a support group with other young people in the same situation I started to accept myself.”

Brenda: “Unfortunately bad experiences keep coming back, for example in clinics. It shows that many health workers are poorly trained and don’t know how to deal with young people. Once a nurse snarled at me while taking my blood, saying that I should sit more upright or otherwise I would infect her. She really hurt me.”

Joy: “Sounds familiar. When I was thirteen I picked up my medication and a rude health worker started shouting all kinds of prejudices. Without asking questions she said I was too young for sex and that I was promiscuous. I felt so humiliated and never wanted to come back to that clinic.”

Brenda: “Yes, that’s what happens when clinics communicate with young people in this way. They are implementing a ‘test and treat’ policy, but that really isn’t enough. There is not enough room for the psychosocial part. Accepting your status takes a lot of time and energy and counseling sessions are needed to deal with this.”

Joy: “One of the most important things in my work is making clinics more youth friendly. We do that by training young people who live with HIV to act as coaches and connect them to health clinics. We hope to eventually implement this on a national level to create more impact. I hope we can establish places where young people feel welcome and safe. A nice room should be part of it, with a table tennis table, a television and soda, where other peers are available to talk to, and where well informed health workers welcome you with a smile.”

Brenda: “This sounds beautiful! Much more young people would come to the clinic to get tested and treated. And they wouldn’t feel so alone and desperate anymore.”

To make sure more young people will get themselves tested and treated it’s incredibly important that clinics are becoming more youth friendly

-Joy (l)

Brenda and Joy

Joy: “Because of our own negative experiences we know how these clinics should look like in an ideal world. Adults need to engage and involve young people while making decisions about us. And we need to step up for ourselves!”

Brenda: “That’s the good thing right, that the challenging moments in your life can be turned around and used to achieve something positive, that you can make the world a better place for others? Maybe that’s why I’m so passionate about my job. I work with young people who are living with HIV and their families every day. I coach them, support them and make sure they get the right information. I know they appreciate my help because they often tell me how much I mean to them, and that they feel stronger because of me because I understand what they are going through.”

Joy: “My dream is that young people living with HIV don’t go through what I’ve been through. I want them to feel accepted, appreciated and confident, enabling them to live their best life, instead of giving up on life.”

Brenda works at the International Community of Women Living with HIV Eastern Africa in Uganda, and Joy at Education as a Vaccine in Nigeria. Both organisations are part of PITCH (Partnership to Inspire, Transform and Connect the HIV response) and aim to achieve effective and meaningful policy solutions. One of the solutions is, for example, working towards a more youth friendly health care system by connecting professionally trained young people to clinics. PITCH is a cooperation between Aidsfonds and Frontline AIDS and works in Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Ukraine, Kenya, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Uganda.

This article was published in the Aidsfonds Young People & HIV e-news Feb 2020 edition. Do you want to receive this newsletter in the future? Sign up

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