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Friday, August 13th, 2010 - 6 comments

Many hands: how to reach HIV positive youth

HIV positive youth encounter profound and varied challenges. We say we want to help, yet we continually let them down when we don’t provide the services they need. It’s a growing problem without a single solution. NUMAT is one of many organizations that is serving the underserved through a layered approach that supports, nurtures and strengthens the youth whose lives have been redefined by HIV.

Ten years ago, I took an HIV test. I was motivated to take the test because I lost my closest relative to HIV. Knowing my own HIV status has empowered me to make informed decisions about my life and to reach out to my family and peers to encourage them to get tested early too. While at school, some of my peers were HIV positive and faced a number of challenges, including stigma and discrimination, and many didn’t know how to find youth-friendly HIV services. All of the above inspired me to join an organization that aims to fulfill the needs of HIV positive youth.

Serving the underserved

HIV positive youth are an important, but often underserved population. Approximately 5.4 million young people aged 15 to 24 are living with HIV worldwide, and that number is growing at an alarming rate (UNAIDS). The availability of antiretroviral therapy and improved care and treatment has enabled many to live into their teenage years and beyond. Yet, quite often, programs that directly address the needs of HIV-infected youth are neglected in favor of approaches that focus on younger children or adults. As the number of HIV-infected youth increases, more programs are needed to provide targeted HIV services.

For many youth, reducing their sexual risk and disclosing their status—especially to their peers and teachers, if they are still in school—are daunting challenges. Stigma remains a critical challenge at the family level, in the health facilities and in schools; “felt” stigma (stigma that an individual feels toward himself or herself) is also a major issue.

In my community, youth are still unable to access youth-friendly HIV services. I believe communities like mine can empower HIV-positive youth who choose to be open about their HIV status by providing self-esteem training; supporting them to establish youth-centered positive prevention clubs; educating them on condom use, then making protection supplies available; and finally by linking them to existing youth centers and youth organizations to access reproductive health and HIV services.

NUMAT’s multifaceted approach

The Northern Uganda Malaria AIDS and Tuberculosis Program (NUMAT), a JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc. implemented project, is committed to increasing access to and utilization of HIV services for young people living with HIV. They support targeted and appropriate prevention activities, and they reach out to young people living with HIV to reduce their vulnerability to HIV re-infection and other infectious diseases.

NUMAT is reducing stigma and discrimination among young people by training teachers to encourage supportive environments for HIV-positive students. Teachers are sensitized to the needs and rights of their students living with HIV. They are then supported to create a conducive learning environment; to encourage school enrollment and retention of positive youth; to provide better school-based services, like psychosocial support, counseling and nutrition; and to help give positive youth more confidence, while mentoring them to pursue their life and career goals.

A conversation for a better solution

In anticipation of the upcoming World Youth Conference in Mexico, where this topic will be discussed, I invite you to respond to the following questions.

  • What are your opinions on reaching out to HIV positive young people and reducing some of the challenges they face?
  • What approaches are needed to attract young people to health services and to encourage their continued use of these services?
  • How can communities work together to empower HIV-positive young people who choose to be open about their HIV status?

Let your opinions known by posting your comments onto this blog.

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The views expressed in this blog-post are solely those of the author.

Comments (6)

peace patrick
Saturday 14th August, 2010, 8:36am

I think here in Africa,we need more education on what HIV really is,I also think the stigma that comes with it is alarming,there are so many other diseases that kills faster than HIV but there is no stigma attached. People should be made to realize that they nid to know there HIV status irrespective of how healthy they think they are.

Enza Kitongo
Friday 20th August, 2010, 9:04am

- Diana, this is a careful and well written piece. I like the depth and energy you show for your work.
- To reach HIV positive youth in challenging circumstances, we have to engage civic society i.e Clubs, Student Associations, School Boards, NGO's and the national governments. This needs an all out assault that is coordinated in such a way that it eliminates or reduces waste and redundancy but maximizes efficacy. Not that, accoding to the UN, Africa has the youngest population of people under 30. It is also hardest hit by thge AIDS epidemic therefore governments and civic organizations need to work together in order to reduce transmission, provide treatment and further strengthen the public healthand economic infrastructure of the communities where the youth live.

- To attract the youth, I think we need to engage them with culturally relevant material. For example,sports, music, video,social networking sites like twitter and facebook, peer to peer discussions and debates in schools and community halls will draw the youth in.

- Communities can work to together by sharing best practices on reduction of HIV transmission. They can combine medical resources so that most patients get comprehensive care, no matter where they are. In addition, communities should set up an administrative infrastructure to address problems

Racheal Kyalimpa
Monday 23rd August, 2010, 6:22am

Young positives is indeed a special group with special needs. It is very important that when we design projects to meet their needs we involve them from the inception to implementation. Why are our young people unable to access youth friendly services? We should remember that young positives are unique in the sense that their future is threatened by HIV and appears bleak. Many of them have also been born with the virus. Programmes to address social issues concerning young positives need to be encompassed in the project design.

Ernestine Greaves
Monday 23rd August, 2010, 9:13am

You are doing a great work my friend. And it is very important for youth in countries such as mine to copy some ideas and techniques to be able to find sustainable solutions to our own health problems. I appreciate your work and hope your results of achievement grows higher....

Ginette Hounkanrin
Thursday 16th September, 2010, 8:19am

Young people living with HIV are a very specific group while addressing youth SRHR issues. However among this target group, there is a need to think about the non educated young because most of the program designed are made for young people educated. What's about that under served population. I think we should also emphasis on mobile strategies, we need to go to them with a strong and culturally acceptable program components, involve as much as possible community so that the stigma can be reduced. Services need to be friendly, young people need model, not critics.

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Guest Editor

Diana Sera

Monitoring & Evaluation Manager, Northern Uganda Malaria AIDS & Tuberculosis Program (NUMAT)

About

Diana is the Monitoring and Evaluation Manager for the Northern Uganda Malaria AIDS & Tuberculosis Program (NUMAT), an HIV prevention, care and treatment program based in Northern Uganda. Passionate about youth HIV issues, Diana’s vision is to educate as many people as possible about the needs of young people living with HIV. She gives motivational talks and career guidance advice to young HIV-positive youth, while advocating for condom use and presence of youth-friendly centers in her community to access reproductive health and HIV services.

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