Brazilian and Jamaican adolescents unite against AIDS: Prevention of HIV infection among adolescents in Jamaica and Brazil- learning from each other
For over two decades Jamaica and Brazil have undertaken considerable efforts to put the HIV/AIDS epidemic under control. Primary prevention, access to treatment and care, protection of children affected by HIV/AIDS have been the main foci of their interventions. For these reasons, both countries have been nominated as champion countries in the Global Campaign on Children and AIDS.
Confronted with an increasing vulnerability to HIV/AIDS among their adolescent population- many of whom living with HIV thanks to greater access to treatment prolonging their lives- Brazil and Jamaica have decided to join forces and learn from each other to accelerate and scale up prevention efforts among adolescents, and provide necessary protection, treatment and care for those living with HIV/AIDS.
The present 3-year joint proposal submitted by the UNICEF offices in Jamaica and Brazil to the French National Committee for UNICEF for a total amount of EURO 300,000 supports 4 main strategies:
Working with a range of partners including the National STI-HIV/AIDS Programmes, National AIDS Committees, Ministries of Health, Education, Social Welfare, Youth, Communication, NGOs and CBOs, the media, and above all adolescents themselves, UNICEF in Brazil and Jamaica will seek to achieve the following results through the proposal:
Expanded availability and access to HIV counselling and testing services among adolescents, including teenage pregnant women and their partners, to fulfil their right to know their HIV status, reinforce prevention efforts, and provide referral to treatment and PMTCT-Plus programmes as required;
It is proposed that the total allocation of EURO 300,000 be allocated as follows: EURO 175,000 for Brazil, and EURO 125,000 for Jamaica, including EURO 20,000 allocated in each country to implement activities promoting the exchange of experiences between the two champion countries.
BRAZIL: ADOLESCENTS UNITE AGAINST AIDS
In Rio de Janeiro, a national meeting of adolescents living with HIV/AIDS has gathered 78 boys and girls from all over the country, as well as two groups from Jamaica and Angola.
For two days, 78 Brazilian adolescents and youngsters affected by HIV/AIDS have shared their stories, experiences, learned from each other and discussed issues related to adolescence and HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care. The event was organized by UNICEF and two Brazilian NGOs, Grupo Pela Vidda and Fórum ONGs AIDS, who are partners in the Global Campaign Unite for Children - Unite against AIDS!
The meeting took place in Rio de Janeiro, on October 12 and 13 and has brought together girls and boys aged 14-20 coming from all over Brazil. Some of them live in orphanages since an early age, while others have remained with their families and communities, through the support of government, NGOs and international organizations.
The event also included the participation of two delegations of youngsters from Jamaica and Angola. “This is the first time I’ve seen so many young people living with HIV at once. It is not an atmosphere of doom. Everybody is energetic. That’s the way it is supposed to be. It is really a good experience”, says Nicolas, one of the Jamaican youngsters. “In Jamaica, you don’t really see too many young people living with HIV coming together, relating and talking to each other. So it is more difficult to cope with it, if you feel alone. It is easier to talk to someone if the person knows what you’re going through”.
In addition, the Angolan and Jamaican groups have visited several UNICEF-supported projects to learn about Brazilian methodologies to address HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care with young people, through the use of arts, music, drama and peer education. “This really works. It’s all about having young people together, learning from each other, talking about being HIV+, sharing problems and solutions”, points out Kerrel, another young Jamaican that was part of the delegation.
By the end of the meeting, adolescents came up with possible solutions to the common problems that many of them face everyday, because of AIDS. For Joana, a 16-year-old Brazilian girl who lives in São Paulo, the most important lesson of the meeting has been the use of anti-retroviral treatment. “I was tired of having to take so much medication everyday. I quit it for 2 years, without letting my family or my doctor know. I got really sick and now, I am into the treatment again. Sometimes I feel like giving up but here, I’ve seen that in other Brazilian states or in countries like Angola, medication is not always available. Now I know how valuable it is to have free access to treatment and I’ll make an effort to continue”, she says. Through the public health system, Brazil ensures universal free access to anti-retroviral treatment as well as the healing of opportunistic diseases.
Over 175,000 people in the country receive anti-retroviral treatment that is free of charge. This is why the Brazilian response to the AIDS epidemic has been recognized as effective worldwide. However, more than half of the new HIV infections in Brazil reach youngsters aged 15-24. UNAIDS estimates that nearly 331,000 young people are living with the virus and most of them are not aware of their HIV status.
Stigma and discrimination are still major challenges for most boys and girls affected by HIV/AIDS in Brazil. “In my family, only my parents know I am HIV positive. I haven’t told my younger brother yet, for he is too immature to understand my situation”, says Claudio. Renata has already told a close friend at school and had to deal with rejection. “Now, I think twice before sharing my secrets with friends. I considered her a good friend but she could not understand what I was going through”.
The right to education was another subject discussed during the meeting. “When I am in the hospital, my teachers and my friends send me all homework through my family. I don’t like being absent at school, but sometimes it is necessary. It is important that the school understands our needs”, says Natália, who is 15 years old.