Mateus learned to live with HIV and now teaches other young people to overcome challenges

With the support of UNICEF in Belem, the young man could overcome depression and he now supports other children with similar stories.

© UNICEF Brasil/2018/L. Marques
UNICEF Brasil/2018/L. Marques
09 July 2018

Sitting on the dock of the river bordering the capital city of Pará, Mateus* recalls his journey before getting there. At 18 years old, he spends his time attending classes of his last year of high school and supporting adolescents and young people living with HIV.

No one who talks to Mateus today would imagine that three years ago, it was him who needed help to overcome the depression he experienced when he discovered that he was living with the virus. He received support from Viva Melhor Sabendo Jovem (Young Live Better Knowing), a UNICEF initiative to increase the access of children to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases testing, as well as treatment adherence.

Mateus’ life was never easy. After being abandoned by his mother, he was raised by his grandmother in a small village in Pará. His grandmother worked to provide for her grandson and 15 other relatives. The situation, which was already complicated, worsened when Mateus assumed his sexuality. The intense struggles with his relatives led him to run away from home. At 13 years old, he decided to try his luck in the capital of Pará.

He spent months living in the street, out of school, working to survive. But one day, Mateus was received by a friend, who sheltered him in his house and helped him to go back to school.

When everything seemed to go well, the serology results arrived. “I was not able to accept it, and ended up getting depressed. I started to isolate myself from my friends, moving away from school, from people, and stayed on my own”, he says.

It took Mateus a year to be able to look for help and start the medication. Once he started the treatment, he got involved in the Viva Melhor Sabendo Jovem (Young Live Better Knowing) groups, where he found answers to his questions, received support and knew about other experiences.

“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”, he explains.

Supporting other teenagers and young people

Inspired by the support he had received, Mateus got involved with Viva Melhor Sabendo Jovem (Young Live Better Knowing) and started helping other children and young people who, like him, encountered difficulties when they were informed about their serology results.

“We talk from teenager to teenager, from black to black, from indigenous to indigenous. I have a wide range of people, a huge group of people I can reach”, he says, emphasizing the importance of peer-to-peer communication and mutual support.

For Edgar Barra, mediator of Viva Melhor Sabendo Jovem (Young Live Better Knowing) in Belem, the role played by young people as Mateus makes the difference in Viva Melhor Sabendo Jovem (Young Live Better Knowing).

“Health professionals may not speak as a teenager or a young man like Mateus, who is able to tell what happened to him when he got to know about his serology. It is about telling about our reality. Viva Melhor Sabendo Jovem (Young Live Better Knowing) is not only aimed at testing and reaching numbers, but also to refer adolescents and young people to public services and provide follow-up. For that purpose, there is a link, a young person who is also living with HIV, who knows about that reality and provides support not only to adolescents or young people, but also to their families, who usually need help and don’t know where to find it”, Edgar explains.

Thanks to the support he received and the exchange of experiences, Mateus learned many lessons and now he shares them with others: “My advice is: don’t give up. Have positive thoughts and always think that everything will work out. The first step is the hardest. If I had not taken that first step to leave my city, I have no idea how my life would be. First, we need to think that it will work out. Then, we need to act. If we don’t take part in the action, we will not get anywhere”, he concludes.

About Viva Melhor Sabendo Jovem (Young Live Better Knowing)

Viva Melhor Sabendo Jovem (Young Live Better Knowing) is a UNICEF health strategy aimed at increasing the access of adolescents and young people between 15 and 24 years old to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases testing. In addition to testing, the initiative is also aimed at improving treatment adherence among HIV-positive young people and providing access to information on prevention.

The strategy is implemented within the framework of the Platform for Urban Centers (PCU), aimed at guarantying the rights of children living in the most vulnerable regions of Brazilian major cities.


* The teenager’s name was changed to protect his identity.