|© UNICEF Rwanda/2011/Sundaram|
|A health worker counsels an adolescent at a clinic in Kigali, Rwanda. UNICEF supports the clinic, called TracPlus, which offers a model of services for adolescents living with HIV.|
By Anjan Sundaram
KIGALI, Rwanda, 19 March 2012 – Ange*, 15, still feels sad when she remembers that she has HIV.
But when she meets with her peer support group at the TracPlus clinic in Kigali, she is able to look forward to her future. She dreams of one day becoming a minister, or even the president, of her country.
“I used to feel lonely with my infection, but because of this programme at TracPlus, I spend time with others who are just like me, and who are happy,” she said. “I know I will be as happy as some of them one day.”
Over 22,000 children and young people in Rwanda are living with HIV. Some 1.6 per cent of Rwandan young people aged 15 to 24 are HIV-positive. Yet access to adolescent-friendly treatment and care services remains insufficient. The State of the World’s Children 2012 shows that less than half of adolescents aged 15 to 19 have comprehensive knowledge about HIV, such as how to protect themselves and their partners from the disease. And because of the stigma associated with the disease, some adolescents have lived with HIV their entire lives, even receiving medication for it, without ever being told their status.
Providing comprehensive care
To tackle these issues, UNICEF is supporting the TracPlus clinic, which offers a model package of services appropriate for adolescents living with HIV.
|© UNICEF Rwanda/2011/Sundaram|
|Youths hold hands at the TracPlus clinic in Kigali, Rwanda.|
At present, 730 children and adolescents are enrolled at the clinic, where they are helped to gradually understand and deal with their HIV-positive status.
“The children sometimes have very negative reactions,” explained Melanie Muhizi, a coordinator for paediatric care at TracPlus. “Some wonder why they are living, why they take medicines every day, or if they will ever be cured.”
Fortunately, with UNICEF support, the clinic’ educators, psychologists and health experts use a variety of means to educate and guide the children and adolescents. They learn not only to adhere to their treatment regimens but also to understand their illness. They also learn how to stay healthy and hopeful about the future.
“Because of the support they get here, many of these children and young people are able to lead very normal lives,” said Ms. Muhizi. “They make remarkable progress. I am particularly proud of one boy who went through our programme and is now the head of his own construction company.”
Other young people who have graduated from the programme have gone on to become peer educators, serving as role models for children currently enrolled in the programme.
“When I came here to join the adolescent peer support group at Trac, I met kids from my school who I didn’t know had HIV, like me,” said David, a 13-year-old student. “It made me feel positive, that I can also be happy. I want to be a successful businessman. I will keep taking my medicines and stay well because I want to do well at school.”
*Names changed to protect children’s identities.