Adolescents Living Positively

HIV positive youth face with medical difficulties, discrimination and doubts, but they find their way through hope and support.

UNICEF LACRO
Adolescents Living Positively
UNICEFPeru/2018/Volpe
19 July 2018

An estimated 237,000 adolescents and young people, between 10 to 24 years old, are living with HIV in Latin America and the Caribbean; and an estimated 19,800 adolescents with ages between 15 to 19 contracted HIV in 2017 in the region. That means that every hour, 2 Latin American and Caribbean adolescents contract HIV in the region, and the majority do not know they are infected.

Adolescents Living Positively
UNICEFJamaica/2018/Volpe

“I found out that I was positive when I was pregnant, and my first reaction was to scream. I just screamed when I heard the news,” tells Lisa*, 18-year-old from Jamaica.

Like Lisa, many adolescent girls take their first HIV test as a routine check during pregnancy.

Adolescents Living Positively
UNICEFJamaica/2018/Volpe

Some of these adolescent boys and girls were born with HIV, but didn’t know they were infected until their adolescent years.

“I was born with HIV. My mum didn't tell me anything. After she passes, I moved in with my sister’s father,” explains Sheila*, 25-year-old from Jamaica.

Sheila went to the doctor and tested positive for HIV. She moved with some family members but they scorned and turned away from her.

Adolescents Living Positively
UNICEFBrazil/2018/J. Laet

“When I lost my mom because of HIV at the age of 8, I was devastated. When I was a teenager, the situation got worse,” recalls Isadora*, 21-year-old from Brazil.

Isadora says that she became increasingly rebellious and quit the treatment.

"My aunt forced me to take the medication, but I never did it, I didn’t take care of myself, I forgot about it. I was always sick, getting in and out of the hospital,” she says.

Without the drugs, her health deteriorated quickly.

Adolescents Living Positively
UNICEFBrazil/2018/J. Laet

For children and adolescents living with HIV, going to school can be a challenge.

“The only thing I haven’t been able to do is tell anyone in school about my condition. Nobody has talked to the teachers and I’m not ready to tell them either. When we have lessons about HIV and AIDS, I do my best to distance myself so as to not raise any suspicion. I’m afraid of being judged; of not being accepted,” says Joao*, 15-year-old from Brazil.

Adolescents Living Positively
UNICEFJamaica/2018/Volpe

Alicia*, 23-year-old from Jamaica, knows about discrimination. “It was very hard. I remember before I got home, the rumours started that I was either pregnant or I had HIV. When people didn’t see pregnancy, then they thought it was HIV. My mother cried. She wasn’t a support back then, and she still isn’t now.”

Adolescents Living Positively
UNICEFJamaica/2018/Volpe

Support doesn’t always come just from family. For example, EVE for Life is a UNICEF-supported organization that works supporting women and children living with HIV in Jamaica.

“Before I started with EVE, I many things used to bother me. Sometimes I felt lost, but they gave me hope,” admits Marsha*, 24-year-old from Jamaica, who thinks they made her feel stronger than ever.

Adolescents Living Positively
UNICEFJamaica/2018/Volpe

Since Jennifer*, 24-year-old from Jamaica, met people at EVE for Life, she feels empowered to live and now she takes care of her health. “It’s been great. I started taking my medication, which I never used to do. They motivate me in a lot of different ways. So far, it’s been a great journey.”

Adolescents Living Positively
UNICEFJamaica/2018/Volpe

With guidance, HIV positive youth find their way through hope and support.

“When people think about HIV, everyone thinks that it’s the end – a death sentence. Now I believe that I can reach anywhere that I want to be in life. I don’t think HIV can stop me,” says Gloria*, 29-year-old from Jamaica, who as many adolescents, had to overcome difficult situations.

Adolescents Living Positively
UNICEFPeru/2018/Volpe

When Jimmy*, 21-year-old from Peru, heard his diagnostic, he thought his time on earth was up, but the doctor and nurse told him: “You’re going to take your medication, you’re going to eat well and you’re going to live. Because those who look after themselves, don’t die.” Jimmy left the hospital determined to beat HIV.

Adolescents Living Positively
UNICEFPeru/2018/Volpe

“HIV has not taken anything away from me. Rather, it has given me a new life. My life is better now because I have meaningful work to do. I want to help prevent HIV by giving adolescents information they may not have heard - or listened to- at school," says Jimmy.

Adolescents Living Positively
UNICEFBrazil/2018/L. Marques

When I discovered that I was living with HIV, I used to think: ‘in two months, I won’t be here.’ Not anymore. Thanks to the support that I received, I have been able to set goals for my future. I know that living this way is possible, adhering to the treatment, properly taking the medicine, and going to the doctor. By doing so, we can live quietly, as any other person”, Mateus*, 18-year-old from Brazil, explains.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, it is necessary to expand coverage and improve interventions considering the needs of children and adolescents to achieve a generation free of HIV and AIDS.

* Names have been changed to protect their identities.