“NOW IS THE TIME TO COME TOGETHER AGAIN AND FINISH WHAT WE STARTED. LET US SEIZE THIS OPPORTUNITY AND JOIN THE FAST-TRACK TOWARDS ENDING AIDS AS A PUBLIC HEALTH THREAT BY 2030.”
-MICHEL SIDIBÉ, UNAIDS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
They are young and very smart, intelligent and vibrantly hopeful about what the future holds for them too. If you are not told they are living with HIV, nothing in the world shows it so.
All fifty of the adolescents drawn from across seven States including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja were brought together by the Positive Action for Treatment Access (PATA) with support from UNICEF and Lagos State Agency for HIV/AIDS (LSACA) at a recent camp for Youth Living with HIV in Lagos. The mission was for these young people to share their life experiences and learn more about achieving life goals and desires in spite of HIV from adults who are already living with the virus.
One thing that is common to all these young adults whose ages range between 10 and 19, is that all were born to HIV positive mothers and infected from birth.
Chisom who is 14, (not real name) was forthcoming in telling his story to Healthstyleplus.
“I am 14 years old from Anambra State and I have just finished my Junior WAEC. I am HIV positive and I was told I was infected by my mother. Although I am healthy like any other person of my age but I am always discriminated against in School when it is not really my fault.
“There are babies who die soon after they are born, but God gave me life and for fourteen years I am still standing and I know I have bright future.
I met a lot of people here in camp and we became friends but I see some are perturbed by their status, I try to comfort and encourage them to see life beyond their status as I believe we are destined to be great.
“I got to know about my status from my parents after I realised I was always swallowing drugs daily. I dint understand why I should be taking drugs when I wasn’t sick. It was when I was 12years old that I begged my parent to explain why I was always forced to take drugs. It was both of them who revealed my status and, I felt like killing myself because I have learnt about HIV while in Primary School. I had learnt about how people get infected and develop AIDS and then die. I was the only one with the disease among my sibling, so I thought my mother hated me.
However, here in camp I have realised that the way I thought of HIV is really not what it is; I can now relax because I now know that I am not about to die and my dream to become a lawyer can be realised in the next ten years if I work at it as HIV can never hold me down”
Esther is 15 and lives in FCT as an HIV positive.
“I never really knew about my status at first as my mother never told me why I was always taking Septrin. She only told me it was because I had this pneumonia that was always occurring and was always tired. Sometimes I skip taking the drugs and my elder brother was always angry with me as I was always going low and very sick too.
One day in annoyance, my brother screamed at me and disclosed my status. I was in shock and disbelief and then, I felt I should kill myself, then I was thirteen now I am in SS3 about to write my JAMB examination.
I was very angry with my mum because if she had disclosed to me, I would have been taking my medications seriously. I felt her not telling me really put my life in danger and at a risk. So initially I thought maybe she wanted me dead. But then when she saw the way I reacted, she drew me close to herself explaining the reason why she never disclosed my status at firt.
According to her, she felt I was still a child and wouldn’t want to expose me to the reality thinking I wasn’t mature enough to handle the disclosure; wanted me to grow a bit older before telling me I soon forgave her when she explained and apologised. Then she began to teach me more about myself and how to handle living with the virus positively and how not to infect others.
Initially, I felt really bad but what keeps me going is my resolve to live through the virus and achieve my potentials. There is this saying, “See me and not the virus in me” I believe people should see me as I am and not the virus as God has potentials in me. To those of us who have HIV it does not mean the end of life or that we do not have strength to do what God has put in us. I am very sure that soon, there would be cure for HIV/AIDS.
Here at camp, I realised I am not the only one living with HIV. A lot of others from other states have been sharing experiences and the skills I have learnt from here will definitely go a long way to help me after school. I am definitely empowered to become a good advocate for other positive youths. I know my right and can stand for my rights and for those of others. I would like to be a Mass communicator.
Iniobong is a 16 year old SS 2 Student from Akwa Ibom State.
“It was in 2011 when I took ill and was almost dying and was rushed down to the hospital that my condition was diagnosed and the result of the several tests revealed that I am HIV positive. That was in December, the same year my mother died after an illness I later suspected was AIDS.
My uncle was shocked and was wondering how I got infected unfortunately my mother had died and my father was in Lagos. My father was requested to go for test so they could know where I got infected but he refused. I was encouraged to forget about my father’s decision not to test rather focus on my life and take my medication as at when due.
Sometimes, I do not feel like continuing with the drugs because it could be nauseating. But my uncle was very supportive as I am the first born and none of my other two siblings have the virus.
In camp I learnt a lot about values and self-worth as well as life skills. I now know I can be in control of my destiny in spite of th stigma I face in school. Back in my State, I have resolved to be an advocate for young people living with the virus to encourage positive living too
Dammy is 16 and an orphan who grew up in the Orphanage.
“Three years ago, I took ill and was taken to the hospital to see a dermatologist because I had rashes all over my body. The doctor told me I needed to take a test to know which treatment to give me. The care-giver who took me to the hospital was dejected after she was told that I was positive.
She was reluctant to break the news knowing I am an emotional person but because I had all long wanted to be an HIV counsellor not even knowing I could be living with the virus, I encouraged her to tell me and she had no choice to but to tell me the news. I felt devastated and broke down.
My initial fear and concern was about discrimination and stigma around the disease and I thought who would like to marry an HIV positive. But my fears were allayed because I was counselled to know I can marry even a positive man if both of us are dedicated to taking our drugs.
Kate is 16 Year old from Benue State.
She lost her mum to AIDS in 2006 but only got to know about her status after she took ill and was almost dying in 2009.
“The most painful part was that the money my Aunty, my mum’s sister had saved to help me go through my Senior WAEC and JAMB was spent on me at the hospital. when I took ill and was almost dying.
It was initially tough coping with being positive because everyone kept away from me even my Aunt who took me to the hospital and knew my story abandon me and separated all my things from her children, including plates, cups and even I was locked up in isolation in a room.
It took me time to accept my status, I tried a couple of times to commit suicide because no one could explain how I got infected since my parents had died from the disease yet my younger sister doesn’t have the virus.
But it was the support from the Nurses in General Hospital Oturkpo that kept me. In camp, I learnt I am destined to live and make it in life. Presently, I am on second line treatment drugs because I went off on my drugs for a long time and it was no longer working for me.