Learning to dream again

Young people and Adolescent Peer Supporters are renewing hope for young people living with HIV in western Uganda

Masturah Chemisto
YAPS, adolescents, HIV, AIDS, ARVS, antiretroviral drugs, SIDA, CDC, UNICEF, young people and adolescent peer supporter , peer to peer support, Global Fund, Baylor Uganda
UNICEF Uganda/2021/Kabuye
25 January 2022

At 15 years of age, the average teenager dreams of a better future and becoming a high achiever. 15-year-old Doreen Kengonzi from Karago Village in Fort Portal is no different, she has a big dream. Not even HIV will stop her, although it almost did.  

Two years ago, Doreen was very sick. She didn’t want to take her antiretroviral drugs for HIV infection, because she said the drugs made her very dizzy and weak. Doreen did not tell anyone about her decision and the nurses at the Bukuku Health Centre IV were concerned because she developed a very bad skin infection and was constantly struggling with malaria infections. 

“I stopped her from going to school because I thought that she was going to die,”

Doreen’s aunt says with regret.  
YAPS, adolescents, HIV, AIDS, ARVS, antiretroviral drugs, SIDA, CDC, UNICEF, young people and adolescent peer supporter , peer to peer support, Global Fund, Baylor Uganda
UNICEF Uganda/2021/Kabuye

In October 2020, Doreen met a young lady who helped her resurrect her fading dream.                   
The lady “told me that she is HIV positive and takes antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to keep her stay healthy. I couldn’t believe that my good looking ‘nurse’ was also HIV positive, and was greatly inspired to resume my medication,” Doreen says. “She also taught me how to overcome the dizziness by taking a lot of fluids.”

The lady, 21-year-old Christine Kakyo, is a young people and adolescent peer supporter (YAPS). The YAPS Programme is an initiative of the Ministry of Health and partners including UNICEF, Global Fund with funding from SIDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The programme is being implemented by Baylor-Uganda in seven districts in south western Uganda including Kabarole with the aim of improving the quality of care for adolescents and young people and to address the challenges of poor retention in HIV care and low viral load suppression rates amongst adolescents and young people. 

The programme is running in 320 high-volume health facilities in 72 districts with 714 trained YAPS supporting over 25,000 adolescents and young people to improve their treatment outcomes on the HIV cascade.  One such YAPS member is Kakyo who is always willing to share her life story of living positively. She believes that using herself as an example is what has convinced most of her linked adolescents, including Doreen, to adhere to their drugs, become virally suppressed and live healthy.

“I finally have someone to talk to about drugs. I didn’t have anyone to confide in regarding my medicine,”

Doreen says. 

Doreen’s Aunt is equally grateful, “I am now comfortable because I know there is someone who cares about Doreen and if anything happens to her, I just report it to Kakyo.” 

Ministry of Health records indicate that viral load suppression for adolescents in Kabarole increased from 70 per cent in 2018 to 92 per cent within the two years since the YAPS were recruited to support adolescents on treatment adherence. This is true for Doreen as well. For the first time ever, her viral load is suppressed and has remained so for over five months. HIV status notwithstanding, Doreen is pursuing her dreams with fresh vigour. 

YAPS, adolescents, HIV, AIDS, ARVS, antiretroviral drugs, SIDA, CDC, UNICEF, young people and adolescent peer supporter , peer to peer support, Global Fund, Baylor Uganda
UNICEF Uganda/2021/Kabuye

“I want to be a nurse so that I can treat those who need help in future,”

Doreen says.

She isn’t the only one with renewed dreams. Teddy Chimulwa, the Program Officer in charge of Adolescent Health at the Ministry of Health says since the YAPS Programme was rolled out, she can now dream of a time when “all young people living with HIV are virally suppressed and are healthy and productive.” 

UNICEF Uganda/2022