Overcoming AIDS-related stigma, achieving a vibrant life
One in 20 adolescents globally who lives with HIV comes from Tanzania. Despite strong commitment from government and development partners in responding to the HIV epidemic among children and adolescents, the prevalence among teens aged 10 – 19 is still high. Girls are excessively affected and are almost three times more likely to live with HIV than boys of the same age. As the situation remains stable, adolescents living with HIV and AIDS are facing life-threatening stigmatization, while struggling to maintain their good health.
Diana, a brave girl and member of the Tegeta Teen Club based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania is no exception to AIDS-related stigma. With support from a local NGO named PASADA, she has been living with HIV for the past 22 years and is a resilient, lovesick human like everyone else.
UNICEF supports PASADA in HIV interventions through teen clubs and community outreach that fight stigma while suppressing viral load among HIV patients.
Diana hopes to be a psychotherapist when she graduates from university, where she is currently pursuing her diploma in psychology and counselling. However, her journey was not easy due to stigma, sickness and loneliness.
When in boarding secondary school she was taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) and attended weekly clinics secretly, with the fear that others would find out.
“One day my schoolmates found out that I was taking pills. They isolated me, they stigmatized me and refused using my utensils or sitting next to me,” says Diana. At first, she didn’t understand why. Rumours about her spread everywhere. “She has AIDS,” they would say. When Diana heard the rumours, she was devastated. Due to extreme stigmatization, isolation and depression, her health and academic performance declined in a short period of time.
One weekend the issue become worse, “They threw my utensils in the trash, they tore my bedsheets and destroyed my luggage. Hurtful messages were written on my books: ‘Leave AIDS girl’, ‘we don’t want you infecting us’, ‘go home and die, sick girl." It was because of this moment that, sadly, Diana decided to stop taking the medicine that was prescribed to her. Her health condition deteriorated further, and her lungs became critically affected due to the irregular dosage. Soon after, she was hospitalized.
When she was in high school, she disclosed her HIV status to her friends. “I saw the positivity of life, they accepted me wholeheartedly and the whole class visited me when I was sick.” Classmates and teachers were willing to carry her upstairs and down for classes and her school nurse introduced her to several schoolmates who were also on ART.
“I realised that HIV doesn’t mean death. Taking my medications and having a healthy lifestyle can result in a very vibrant life”.
Diana would like others to know that it is important to remember that people living with HIV and AIDS are human like everyone else. They need to be loved, cared and enjoy life like others do, and there is no need to stigmatize them.
UNICEF Tanzania supports PASADA in eradicating AIDS-related stigma through the approach of Teen Clubs with peer educators and community ART refill that reaches the beneficiaries at their home or close to home. In 2019, the programme has benefited 2,191 adolescents and young people living with HIV and AIDS aged 10 – 24 in Tanzania.