I am READY, are you?

By Janet Bhila

Janet Bhila is a member of Y+, the Global Network of Young People Living with HIV, in Zimbabwe. She shares her experience of what it’s like to grow up living with HIV, and how the new READY+ programme will make a difference to her and other young people.

Young people gather for a condom demonstration in Kampala, Uganda. Young people gather for a condom demonstration and SRHR talk in Kampala, Uganda. ©International HIV/AIDS Alliance

Being an adolescent is not easy

Going through puberty and becoming a young adult is hard enough for everyone, but there are numerous things that we battle with when HIV is added to the list!

For ages I was taking medication without knowing what it is for, until I was old enough to understand that it’s treatment for HIV and that I need it to stay healthy.

Being involved in relationships is really hard with the burden of disclosing our status. I think this is especially hard for girls, mostly because of the stigma and discrimination.

My body is changing… I have pimples on my face… I think that boy likes me… Maybe that girl kept looking at me because she thinks I am hot… I am HIV-positive.

Many times we fail to attend school on the set dates because we have to go and queue for our medication. The clinics are not ‘adolescent-friendly’. They don’t open out of school hours or show concern that we should be at school.

I also have to deal with going to the clinic and being attended by a nurse who will have an attitude thinking I got HIV through sex, because that’s what they believe. Then I have to meet a nurse who is overwhelmed with work and has to still smile at me when giving me the service!

Because being an adolescent is tough!

Thoughts from a participant at the READY+ partners meeting in Cape Town, South Africa during October 2016. ©International HIV/AIDS Alliance

Learning from other HIV initiatives

As an excited young person representing adolescents, I am very confident that the coming years will contribute to the development of many global initiatives that focus on changing the lives of adolescents.

Recently, the READY+ project (resilient, empowered adolescents and young people) was launched; a four year project that four countries have been given the privilege to take part in: Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Mozambique.

It will work with youth-led organisations to create projects with young people living with HIV that allow us to learn about HIV, sexual health, mental health, relationships and healthy living in a safe space.

READY+ embraces the numerous difficulties that we face as young people living with HIV, and seeks to address these in a fun, evidence-based, structured and standardised manner. What makes this project unique is that it encompasses differentiated HIV care for us adolescents and young people.

The project is funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Maputo, and led by the Alliance in partnership with Y+, AFRICAID/Zvandiri, AIDS Legal Network (ALN), Coordinating Assembly of NGOs in Swaziland (CANGO), Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+), M&C Saatchi World Services, Paediatric AIDS Treatment for Africa (PATA), the Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI) and Tanzania Council for Social Development (TACOSODE).

READY+ taps into the experience of other HIV initiatives, such as Link Up, which demonstrated the importance of listening to young people when shaping the way we work in communities and health facilities, and how young people play a critical role in peer education and in making health facilities welcoming and easier for young people to navigate. We are going to build on these lessons while contributing to the variety of global targets that are all aimed at ending AIDS by 2030.

I am so excited about the beginning of this programme!

Watch this space. We are READY to make a difference.