Teen Club in Namibia helps children living with HIV transition into adolescence
Women are the focus of World AIDS Day this year. From mothers and caregivers to healthcare workers and policy-makers, women are essential to reaching an AIDS-free generation, which is within reach, at long last.
With AIDS still the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age globally and the main cause of child mortality in countries with high HIV prevalence, UNICEF is featuring women whose strength and resilience help face the realities of the disease from fighting stigma to eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
WINDHOEK, Namibia - Once a month, about 50 adolescents congregate at Teen Club to discuss the challenges they face in life. They also receive health education.
Besides sharing similar life experiences, these children all have one thing that makes them bond with each other and belong together – living with HIV.
Four hundred young people living with HIV are being reached through Teen Club for Adolescents Living with HIV in the paediatric clinic of one of Namibia’s major hospitals, Katutura General Hospital. The innovative programme initiated by the hospital’s paediatric unit in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Social Services, UNICEF Namibia and local NGO Positive Vibes addresses the unique needs of adolescents living with HIV, primarily those who were infected by their mothers during birth.
The paediatric clinic opened its doors in 2010 in recognition of the specific need for care, support and treatment of younger children transitioning to adolescence, with the purpose of delivering integrated services for adolescents living with HIV.
The clinic later extended its services to create a safe space for these adolescents. A dedicated adolescence clinic operates on Wednesdays as part of the integrated package, which is a unique example of such care.
Today, about 800 paediatric patients receive care at the clinic, with approximately 360 patients seen monthly, many of whom will soon transition to adolescence.
Transition – beginning a new journey
“As with all adolescents, transition can be both a mental and physical challenge – and a reality for all adolescents living with HIV, as well,” says UNICEF Representative Micaela Marques De Sousa. For many of these children, transition to adolescence begins with learning that they are HIV-positive, either through disclosure or testing.
Most of the young people at the club were informed about their status by counselors or social workers who are involved in the disclosure process.
Once adolescents are aware of their HIV status, they are then eligible to enrol in the Teen Club and the psychosocial support programme. A consent form must be signed by both parents/caregivers and adolescents.
Meeting dates are communicated to the teens through SMS and signs posted at the clinic. Led by a professional, the group discusses issues that have been identified by club members, for example, anti-retroviral medications, transmission, prevention, positive relationships, self-esteem, mental health and abuse.
Towards a normal life
Disclosure to others is one of the major challenges facing adolescents living with HIV – for them, also a part of the adolescence transition process.
For the past decade, Namibia has been conducting a series of HIV awareness campaigns for adults and young people under the umbrella ‘Take Control’.
However, stigma still has a negative impact on disclosure and adherence to treatment plans. Anecdotal reports from the club and information gathered through a 2010 baseline survey conducted by UNICEF Namibia demonstrate that adolescents do not take their anti-retroviral medication because “of certain things like gossip, and mistreatment by people from taking their medications and simply because they need someone to remind them of when to take the medication.”
A poor socio-economic situation at home is often a factor for many of these teens.
Speaking during a visit to Teen Club, UNICEF advocate on Global Movement for Children Graca Machel said that “the initiative is bridging gaps between parents, their children and the service providers and ultimately fostering a vital relationship that benefits all stakeholders in the fight against HIV and AIDS…[O]ver 400 young people can build positive relationships, improve their self-esteem and acquire life skills to better manage their health, leading to a living a normal life like any other adolescents.”
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