By Elias Hakizimana.
Rwanda has made a tremendous journey in giving access to healthcare to people living with HIV/AIDS, however HIV positive youth still complain that some services are not geared to them due to self-stigma and discrimination.
Joyce, not her real name due to her personal security was born HIV positive and now is 20-year-old. Since then, she started having ART and is now living a healthy life.
She told The Inspirer that one of the challenges facing such youth is that at times they do not know each other to share experience on how to live positively. She said it took her a long time to accept her status, and this is the same happening to a number of other youth who face self-stigmatization and end up failing to seek for healthcare services. “It is not something easy to disclose your status and it took me to accept that,” she said.
Paul, whose second name was withheld by The Inspirer for privacy reason is also among the youth living with HIV. He knew his status at 13 years.
He said self-discrimination is another issue that is a catalyst to HIV/AIDS. “There is still a poor mindset where the community still discriminates youth, some of them prefer to go in other districts far away to receive their treatment in order to hide their status, this is a challenge,”
Health activists say that most of the programs in regard to HIV/AIDS eradication are perfect although they leave behind old people, children and youth as one of the vulnerable categories.
Francine (real name withheld) a member of Dream Village shared good practices to cater for children who are HIV positive in her location after experiencing stigma they face in their host families. She learnt about the hurdles facing younger children who were born HIV positive and their caretakers do not cater for them like other children.
“Their host families do not take care of them as well as providing the basic needs. I have been doing my best to engage with care givers and parents as a peer educator on the best way of addressing the same,” Francine noted. Her other observation is that most of HIV positive people do not take drugs appropriately, and others still fear to disclose their status.
Fortunately, Dream Village has introduced a new project dubbed Community Adolescents Treatment Supporters (CATS) who are HIV positive young people aged between 18-27 years and they will work between the health facilities and homes of Children, Adolescents and Young People with HIV (CAYPLHIV) with the goal of improving outcomes across the HIV care cascade.
These supporters were selected, and will be trained and certified by Africaid in collaboration with Dream Village and The Ministry of Health through Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC).
Speaking to The Inspirer, Norman Manzi, the Founder of Dream Village revealed a big gap that makes youth to experience hurdles in accessing healthcare services.
“For the past few months we have been training young people at different health centers and we found out that the HIV programs are good as provided by the government but there is need to put in more energy towards programs geared to the holistic development of the youth as their priorities, needs and challenges are basically different, that is why we came up with this project,” Manzi said.
The CATS pilot program will start in ten (10) health centers including Kabuga, Remera, Kinyinya, Kagugu, Biryogo, Rwampara, Kicukiro, Cornum, Kabusunzu and Gikondo and will be scaled into most of the rest health centers by 2020,” Manzi said.
He explained that the main objectives of CATS initiative among others; are to provide youth friendly services to young people at different health centers, to provide an arena where young people can be able to freely share experiences with others more often and to share good practices on how youth friendly programs could be well delivered in different health centers.
The project seeks to improve outcomes for children, adolescents and young people from 0-27 years old throughout the HIV care cascade by promoting HIV testing, post-test counselling, disclosure and linkage to care, ARV treatment and adherence, retention and engagement, psycho-social well-being and mental health, sexual and reproductive health and child protection rights among others.
The CATS philosophy
“CATS is a new project under Dream Village that is aiming at placing HIV positive youth at different health centers to be able to support other peers. They will be able to do home visits, send SMS as reminders Doctor appointments, follow up on the social development of the peers, and other cases on child protection issues as well other cases on domestic violence. When it is done, we believe that there will be of course reduction of HIV cases as well as the youth who are HIV positive can be able to adhere to medication,” Manzi explained.
Learning from Zimbabwe, Dream Village found that similar initiative succeeded and came to implement in Rwanda.
Advice to HIV positive youths
Manzi advises the youth who are HIV positive that there is a future ahead and there is a lot that they can accomplish when they accept their status. “there is a community that is willing to support you, there are NGOs, the Government, that believe in who you are, you can use your talents, passion to do whatever you want,”