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Kenya, 20 February 2016: Call for adolescent-friendly services at a national forum for adolescents living with HIV

By Dan Oloo

© UNICEF/Kenya 2016/Oloo
Team building at the National Forum for Adolescents Living with HIV

 
NAIROBI, Kenya, 20 February 2016 – AIDS is the leading cause of death in adolescents in Kenya. In Nairobi, 60 adolescents voiced the need to have an effective service delivery system specifically tailored to their circumstances. They passionately made this call at a National Forum For and By Adolescents Living with AIDS, highlighting issues such as HIV prevention, care and treatment for adolescents.

This forum was carefully designed to create an adolescent-friendly environment providing adolescents with a platform to interact, bond and to freely share their experiences. This event provided an opportunity for candid engagement with the Government and other stakeholders.

“Health facilities must be made cool!” said Brenda Bakobye, 19, while recounting her experience at a facility where the atmosphere was dull and intimidating. “We need to walk into a health centre and feel at home by being served by young people like us who understand us,” she added.

“In school the teachers, epecially those who are HIV negative, must be sensitized about handling pupils living with HIV.”

Brenda was among the many teenagers who pleaded for the formal inclusion of sexual reproductive health lessons in the school curriculum.

Adolescents are at an increased risk of HIV with 29 per cent of all new infections being among young people aged between 15 and 24 years. But with improved access to care and treatment, young people living with HIV, irrespective of their mode of infection, are living longer and healthier lives.

With support from UNICEF, the two-day meeting was organized by Women Fighting AIDS in Kenya (WOFAK), bringing together adolescents and young people from Homa Bay, Kisumu, Mombasa, Nairobi and Siaya Counties. Dorothy Onyango, WOFAK’s Executive Director, emphasized the importance of bringing teenagers who are living with HIV to meet each other and understand that they can lead normal lives just like those who are HIV negative.

“These adolescents are very talented and we need to create an environment where they feel safe to showcase their gifts and excel just like any other child. We should find ways to see that they mingle and interact with their peers without being separated.”

The teenagers called for an inclusive space, an opportunity to meaningfully participate in planning and implementation of health care strategies. Representatives of the National Aids Control Council (NACC), the National AIDS and STI Control Programme (NASCOP) and Sauti Skika, were on hand to respond. They all pledged to take deliberate actions to implement adolescent-friendly healthcare and support.

© UNICEF/Kenya 2016/Oloo
Participants sharing a light moment at the forum

 
Ulrike Gilbert, Chief of the HIV Programme at UNICEF present at the forum explained that moving forward, the key recommendations of standards and support are expected to be tabled at County and National meetings so that they are factored into national programmes. “This forum is very important in catalyzing action and closing the gaps for adolescents on issues relating to HIV testing and treatment. We believe that young people have a critical role to play in helping decision-makers to understand what the current gaps are and that their voices must be taken into consideration.” She also advocated for the formal integration of established networks of adolescents living with HIV into current systems.

The often intense discussions were enlivened by exciting outdoor activities that included team-building games, talent shows and group-sharing circles. In the group circles, participants shared their journeys from overcoming significant trauma and stigma to leading productive normal lives after ensuring proper drug adherence. The aspirational stories that emerged from the discussions served to inspire the participants and gave them hope and a sense of belonging.

“These two days have been special as I have had the unique experience of talking about the challenges I face with people who know what it means to live with HIV.” William Onyango, 19, was among the participants who found the forum useful as a starting point in seeking peer support. “It is often impossible for me to share with people back at home what I am going through because I am still not ready to tell some of them my status. So for me this was really something special,” added an encouraged William.

The National Forum is one way in which UNICEF is working with partners such as WOFAK to support adolescent boys and girls living with HIV in Kenya to establish and strengthen support networks, and to participate in the HIV response and civic processes.

 

 
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