Let’s talk about the high number of new infections among young people

Author: Bruno Mayengo. PHOTO/FILE/COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • "I have lived with HIV since I was born (1997) and today I am impacting lives and living a positive life."

As Uganda joins the rest of the world to commemorate World AIDS Day, in the spotlight are the continuous high new infections among adolescents and young people. 

According to a report by the Uganda Aids Commission, Uganda has registered a reduction in new infections from 86,000 infections in 2010 to 52,000 in 2022 but of these 19,000 are young people between the age of 15-24 years. Seventy percent of the infections among young people are adolescent girls. This is a very worrying trend since the majority of the population is young people.

Many young people are facing stigma and discrimination in schools and communities either by teachers who get to know their status, the family or community members. This stops them from adhering to their drugs schedule and yet they continue to have sexual intercourse spreading the virus further. 

I was born with HIV in 1997 and was always in and out of hospital until 2005 when I was confirmed HIV positive and enrolled on antiretroviral treatment. 

I was struggling with self-stigma getting to terms with the information I had received and the community where I lived was not helping either. I experienced a lot of challenges that included; stigma and discrimination at school from the students and teachers who got to know my HIV status and from my family because I was the only positive child after losing both parents and the end result was attempted suicide on two occasions.

What redeemed my life was the support I got from the health workers where I was enrolled on anti-retroviral therapy and the social worker at Makerere university Walter Reed Project (MUWRP) who always looked out for me to ensure I was taking my drugs regularly. 

I am now a youth leader for young people living with HIV and from the interactions I have had with fellow positive young people, many are pushed into hiding because of discrimination. 

In youth friendly corners, we are able to share experiences and challenges but also build social networks which is very vital in overcoming the stigma.

In Uganda, HIV/Aids has been approached as more than a health issue and a Multi-sectoral Aids Control Approach adopted which is very good but the time is now to focus on having youth lenses in the development and implementation of the different interventions aimed at preventing HIV and providing care and treatment to those already affected. 

The drivers of new HIV infections among adolescent and young people are; the continuing stigma and discrimination, failure to disclose, poor adherence to antiretroviral treatment (ARVs), engagement in cross generational and transactional sex, among others. This has been fueled by the increased access to improper information through online channels and today we have adolescent young girls more scared of pregnancy than HIV. In light of the above, I suggest the following interventions to reduce new infections among adolescents and young people but also support those living positively.

Strengthen adolescent and Young People friendly Programs like YAPS, DREAMS, Group antenatal care, mental health programs and others since they put Young People at the front in the fight to end HIV related Stigma and Discrimination.

Strengthen Electronic peer Support (psychosocial support through Social media, WhatsApp and other electronic platforms since many young people are accessing the internet.

·Educate the young people more about prevention methods like PrEP, protection, abstinence especially in schools and others.
· Integrate livelihood interventions into adolescent HIV programming.
· Strengthen peer support groups interventions to build the esteem and knowledge of adolescents and young People at facilities and community level.
· Networking with the government to ensure more funding towards HIV and specifically programs that support youths.

To the fellow youths living with HIV, having HIV is not the end of the road, don’t waste your life by having multiple sexual partners, abusing drugs and failing to protect yourself. I have lived with HIV since I was born (1997) and today I am impacting lives and living a positive life. Special thanks to the Ministry of Health and MUWRP for giving young people like me an opportunity to grow and also impact other people through the YAPS program.

Bruno Mayengo, YAPS Coordinator Kayunga MUWRP.