Africaid restores hope for HIV positive children, adolescents and young people in Zimbabwe
*Chipo lost hope to live, however, she gained confidence and rekindled the desire to pursue her hopes and dreams after getting in contact with a Community Adolescent Treatment Supporter (CATS) at Gweru Provincial Hospital in September 2016.
Chipo’s story was one of abuse, depression and hopelessness until she came in contact with Africaid through the USAID-supported DREAMS initiative.
She is the last born in a family of 4, and she grew up staying with her father and her stepmother in Kwekwe. Her biological mother passed away when she was young as a result of HIV related illnesses, and she also contracted HIV at birth. She grew up experiencing ill health, and her father was not willing to take her for HIV testing and counselling. She only came to know of her status at the age of 10, when her maternal grandmother who lives in Gweru took her for HIV testing.
Despite her grandmother’s attempts to get her treatment, her abusive father and stepmother often denied her access to medication, as he believed in traditional healing. Eventually, Chipo could not take the abuse and fled from Kwekwe, joining her grandmother in Gweru.
Chipo was depressed, and this affected her social life and adherence to medication. She developed suicidal tendencies and told herself that she had no purpose to live. Health care workers at Gweru Provincial Hospital noted Chipo’s high viral load and linked her to a CATS at the facility for enhanced care where she received daily mobile message alerts and weekly home visits. Chipo was excited to meet the CATS who are complementing Zimbabwe’s national efforts to achieve epidemic control by increasing the number of children, adolescents and young people with HIV on antiretroviral therapy (ART), as well as providing subsequent support for those on treatment. Chipo was invited to a support group where she met other adolescents with HIV who come together to share their experiences. This was such an experience for Chipo and she is now attending these meetings regularly. CATS at Gweru Provincial Hospital referred Chipo for other services under the DREAMS initiative. Funded by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), through USAID and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), DREAMS is an ambitious partnership to dramatically reduce HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women. The goal of DREAMS is to help girls develop into Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe women.
Chipo was referred to Youth Advocates Zimbabwe (YAZ), a DREAMS partner in Gweru which is supporting adolescent girls and young women with economic strengthening activities. She enrolled in courses on metal fabrication, financial literacy, and entrepreneurship.
Chipo defied all odds by choosing a trade which is mostly male dominated. This is a clear indication of the determination she now has after all the support she has been receiving from CATS.
“I feel empowered and I am confident in myself, at least I have a skill. Now I see myself as someone with a career in life and with something to do for a living,”said Chipo
She is currently attached with a local fabrication company in Gweru, where she is sharpening her steel fabrication skills. She is using the income she is earning from the attachment to do extra mathematics lessons, and she intends to write exams in this subject this year in November. Chipo now has big dreams of becoming an engineer. The once hopeless Chipo has drastically changed to become a determined, resilient and empowered adolescent girl.
“Chipo’s story shows the importance of young people in supporting their peers to cope with their HIV status and continue to pursue their hopes and dreams,” said Nicola Willis, Executive Director of Africaid. “It shows the important role CATS can play in ensuring that adolescents and young people with HIV do not progress quickly to AIDS. The multi-sectoral approach to supporting adolescents with HIV also proved to be effective in Chipo’s case.”
Africaid is implementing the DREAMS initiative with the goal of improving the uptake of HIV testing services among adolescent girls and young women. In October 2016, the organization scaled up its Zvandiri model of differentiated service delivery for children, adolescents and young people in other districts in Zimbabwe with financial and technical support from PEPFAR through USAID and Management Sciences for Health (MSH).
*Name changed to protect identity