When Hosea Isaac Dariya, a 23-year-old student of Economics Education at Kaduna state University, learned he was HIV positive, his life came to a complete stop.
“It hit me like a bullet. It was very difficult and accepting it was not easy. It took me time to pull myself together, thanks to the ART (antiretroviral treatment) focal person at the facility that encouraged me to join the support group. She informed me about the meeting and how it will help me in several ways – help me grow; help me in taking my medications and to be free with myself and accept myself.
“I joined the support group a year after I started medication. So far, I will say the support group meetings have been part of my life. Meeting with peers help us with adherence to counselling, how to take our drugs, how to eat well and stay healthy, and how to fight self-stigma.”
Hosea now serves as the Adolescent and Young People, AYP Support Group’s coordinator in the Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna state. He claims that because he could not accept the idea that he was HIV positive, he was forced to live in self-isolation and hide from others to take his medicines. He also adds that the name “HIV” terrified him then.
“Now I am able to fight self-stigma, walking freely and comfortably, and I can boldly tell the world that I am HIV positive, yet living a productive life and on a journey to achieving my dreams of becoming an artist,” Hosea said.
When adults are present at medical facilities, adolescents and young people find it difficult to discuss their HIV status or concerns freely. With financial assistance from Viiv healthcare, UNICEF established the AYP Support Group in 2017 so that young people living with HIV may connect with their peers to share stories, spark new ideas, and gain insight into how to live fulfilling lives despite their HIV status.
Grace Jacob (not her real name), 23, who found out she was HIV positive at age 17, experienced a similar situation. Grace recalled feeling that her time with her grandfather as a child was her last.
“For me, it felt like the end of the world; it was like thunder. I thought I was worthless, but the ART focal person and my grandfather supported and inspired me. My introduction to the AYP support group meeting by the ART focal person gave me hope that I would live again.”
“Now I am okay, and I have come to understand that it is not the end of the world, and it is not a death sentence. I can do what I want to do and be whatever I want to be if only I am taking my drugs.”
“The support group has helped me to become who I am today, no self-discrimination, and sometimes I even forget that I have the virus in me. I am currently married to a husband that is free from the virus and we are blessed with a one-year-old daughter who is equally free of HIV,” Grace said.
About 75 AYPs attend support group sessions at the facility, according to the ART focal person at PHC Sabon Tasha in Kaduna, Sandra Obanewo. She also noted that working with them has been quite intriguing.
“Before now you would hardly see a young person who walked into a facility and said he wanted to do an HIV test. Mostly it is when they are sick and come to the facility to run some tests. But now, they walk freely to a facility to know their HIV status.
“Most of them have been able to open up, disclose their status, live quality and productive lives and have been inviting others that are not accessing drugs from this facility,” the ART focal person said.
In accordance with global goals, UNICEF is committed to contributing to ending AIDS by 2030 and improving access to HIV care. The foundation of UNICEF’s HIV response is the prevention of new HIV infections and improving access to testing and treatment, both of which save lives.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of UNICEF Nigeria.