AIDS is the second biggest killer of teenagers worldwide. In 2017, 590,000 young people between the ages of 15-24 were newly infected with HIV, of whom 250,000 were adolescents between the ages of 15-19. To compound this, only 23% of adolescent girls and 17% of adolescent boys aged 15-19 in Eastern and Southern Africa – the region most affected by HIV – have been tested for HIV in the past 12 months and received the result of the last test.
My name is Margaret Wanjiru and I have been the Clinical Coordinator for the DREAM Kenya Trust, Nairobi since the inception in April 2008. Apart from being a Clinician, I am also a youth mentor. I coordinate Youth Support Group activities to ensure the clinic is youth friendly and serves the needs of the young people.
I have great passion and interest in adolescents and youth programmes, addressing various key and core issues affecting the youth. Notably, there is a rise in cases of depression and suicide amongst the youths and the adolescents in Kenya due to social issues, among them HIV and AIDS.
I give a lot of my time to projects dealing with adolescents and dedicated to the youth. This has enabled me to realise that the adolescents and the youth struggle with self-acceptance and body image issues.
Specifically, HIV positive adolescents and youth struggle with stigma and discrimination, disclosure, self-acceptance, despair and hopelessness, low self-esteem, coupled with daily challenges of side-effects and adherence to anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment.
This led me to roll out and establish focused group discussions, one-to-one mentorship and training programmes that offer guidance, counselling and critical life skills to ensure adolescents and youth are equipped with the knowledge to understand and support to overcome their challenges and be able to contribute meaningfully to their life, their families and society.
Through internal on the job training and external training offered by our partners including the Ministry of Health, I have sharpened my counselling skills which has enabled me to create a strong bond with young people. The counselling is both holistic and faith based. Consequently, the majority have been able to disclose their inner feelings including depression and suicidal thoughts that often create barriers for ARV treatment and adherence.
From the 5th – 8th December we plan to go with adolescents and the youth for a mentorship retreat. The selected participants are adolescents who are undergoing and dealing with psycho social challenges. They will be in the company of nine youths who have already overcome similar challenges and who are now mentors.
I strongly believe that human life is divine and should be protected at any cost and as such, there is no reason whatsoever why suicide should be the second leading mortality cause in Kenya amongst youth and adolescents.
In 2016, there was a roll out of a programme called operation triple zero by the government of Kenya. This programme mainly targets adolescents living with HIV from ages 10 – 19 with an aim to achieve 3 zeros:
- Zero missed appointments
- Zero missed drugs
- Zero viral load
The ultimate goal and the slogan operation triple zero is for the adolescents to become heroes by being zeroes that is; “Zeroes for heroes and heroes for zeroes”. This basically means that if the three targets are met then there will be zero new infections to their future partners, zero new infections to their future children and zero HIV related deaths. Subsequently, HIV related depression and suicide cases would eventually decrease. Our clinic is youth friendly and every Friday the youths and adolescents have an opportunity to interact and share their personal experiences to support each other to overcome the challenges.
The DREAM (Drug Resource Enhancement against AIDS and Malnutrition) project in Nairobi, Kenya is run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul and supported by Misean Cara. DREAM provides HIV care and treatment to persons living with HIV and AIDS. The DREAM programme provides quality health care services to over 2,500 patients. Most of the DREAM clients come from poor socio-economic backgrounds lacking basic needs including food and shelter.