Peer to peer support brings positive outcomes among adolescents in Northern Uganda
Initiative boosts the confidence of adolescents living with HIV and drug adherence
Thirteen-year-old Betty is HIV positive and depends on antiretroviral drugs to keep her immunity strong. In July 2020, Betty stopped taking her tablets. One month stretched into two, then six months of no medication and Betty’s health took a downturn as she was in and out of hospital with malaria.
“I feared the tablets because they were too big.”
Nothing would make Betty resume the medication she had received from Lira Regional Referral Hospital since childhood. Not until Vento.
Vento Mercy Adong who was also born with HIV, had experienced health challenges from avoiding her medication as a child, she too experienced stigma, but she decided that she would be different and help others like her to do the same and live a normal life.
Vento, at 21 years of age, is one of seven young people and adolescent peer supporters (YAPS) providing care and support to 930 adolescents and young people living with HIV, at Lira Regional Referral Hospital.
The YAPS Programme is an initiative of the Ministry of Health and partners including UNICEF, Global Fund with funding from SIDA and USAID. The programme aims at improving the quality of HIV care and increase the retention of HIV positive young adults in HIV care.
Grace Okello, the Gender Officer at USAID RHITES, responsible for implementing the Programme in North Lango sub region reveals that 89 YAPS, including Vento, were recruited to support over 3,000 adolescents and young people living with HIV in 29 health facilities from 9 districts, namely: Alebtong, Otuke, Dokolo, Amolator, Kole, Oyam, Kwania, Apac, and Lira. She further notes that interacting with other youth who are complying with recommended health guidelines greatly boosts the confidence of other adolescents living with HIV and sets a good standard for drug adherence.
Aciro Susan, the Nursing Officer and YAPS Supervisor at Lira Regional Referral Hospital reveals that the YAPS programme has even strengthened linkages and referrals within departments such as antenatal, maternity, safe male circumcision and other reproductive health services.
Vento has also started conducting sensitization programmes on radio, covering topics such as drug adherence, HIV viral load suppression, family planning and safe male circumcision. She says being a YAPS has been transformational, in addition to supporting self-testing of adolescents in her communities, Vento has also become the focal point person at the key population clinic at Lira Regional Referral Hospital.
‘We put Betty on intensive adherence counseling for six months and I constantly monitored her’,
Months later, Betty still considers her tablets too big, but now she takes them and encourages others to follow suit to “be healthy and not fall sick.”
Following the positive outcomes from the YAPS initiative in HIV programming for adolescents, USAID RHITES plans to use the same structure to address issues of gender-based violence in the community.