Living positively with HIV

I am 22 years old and I am HIV positive. I was diagnosed with HIV in December 2008 when I was 11 years old.

The years before were filled with sickness. I could not understand what was going on until my aunt took me to a Partners in Hope Clinic where they did an HIV test.

When the test results came positive, I felt like a dark cloud had fallen over me.

I thought about so many things, wondering how I got infected. I knew that HIV spreads through having unprotected sex and so I wondered how I got infected.

I did not know about other ways of contracting HIV.

Later on, I found out that I got it from my mother who died when I was just six. Three years after her death, my dad also died.

I started taking Anti-Retroviral (ARVs) drugs immediately after the diagnosis because my CD4 count was very low. It was 11 and my viral load was 29 788 copies, meaning I was about to die.

The ARVs saved my life.

In 2009, I transferred from the Partners in Hope Clinic to the Baylor College of Medicine Clinic. Apart from the usual clinical treatment, Baylor College of Medicine also provides psycho-social support through a teen club supported by United cNations Children’s Fund (Unicef).

Through the adolescent club, I learnt that HIV treatment is not just about taking ARVs every day. It is also about having a healthy mind.

I learnt techniques that improved my adherence to treatment and had the opportunity to share my treatment life with other youths and motivate them to adhere to treatment.

In 2014, I graduated from teen club to the Transition Training Programme for young adults living with HIV. In this programme I acquired HIV self-care skills and general life skills.

HIV is not a limiting factor in my life. I passed my Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) with good grades. Then I went on to study community development.

Currently, I am working for Baylor College of Medicine as an adolescent peer supporter. My role involves participating in national and international activities focused on the fight against HIV.

Through this work, I have attended international Aids conferences in South Africa and Tanzania.

All this exposure has increased my passion to support adolescents who are living with HIV. In December 2016, I started a project called “Peer to Zero” which aims to increase adolescent’s adherence to treatment.

So far, the programme is impacting the youth positively.

A survey I conducted among the youth that I work with showed that 97 percent of adolescents are able to adhere to treatment and 87 percent are able to know and memorise names of their ARVs.

Memorising the name of the medications helps them to avoid taking the wrong medications and improves adherence to treatment.

Adherence to treatment leads to viral load suppression, meaning there is a minimal amount of virus in the body.

With support from Unicef, I will be presenting these finding at the International Conference on STIs and HIV treatment in Africa (Icasa) this December in Ivory Coast.

World Aids Day means a lot to me. It is a reminder that people are working hard to end HIV and providing care to those who are already infected. It is also a day to reflect on the stigma and discrimination that people living with HIV face.

It is also a time to reflect on how best we can improve the quality of HIV service delivery to those living in rural areas and increase psycho-social support, especially for those that have been recently diagnosed. n

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