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Namibia's HIV infected teenagers encouraged to live positively

posted 2 Jan 2013, 08:24 by Mpelembe   [ updated 2 Jan 2013, 08:24 ]

A Teen Club in Namibia is encouraging teenagers living with HIV/AIDS to speak out about the challenges they face everyday, in an effort to boost their confidence and help them transition into adulthood with a positive outlook on life.

 WINDHOEKNAMIBIA (UNICEF) -  Once a month 17-year-old Sunday Ekandjo attends a session with counsellors at the Teen Club in Namibia's Katutura State Hospital.

Ekandjo was born with HIV/AIDS -- passed on from her mother at birth. But Ekandjo only discovered her HIV status five years ago.

Before she started going to the club, Ekandjo says she had low self-esteem and felt worthless due to her status, but she has found confidence.

At the club, Ekandjo meets infected people like her and takes solace in knowing she isn't alone in the battle against the virus, and the stigma associated with it.

"It was good to share because many of them (teenagers with HIV/AIDS) had different ideas and different solutions to problems, and it was good to meet them. They were kind, friendly, fun, enjoyable," said Ekandjo.

The Teen Club is a government initiative sponsored by UNICEF and other non-profit organizations, that supports teenagers living with HIV - primarily those infected at birth, make a transition into adolescence and adulthood and be able to lead a normal life.

The club provides a forum where teenagers sharing similar experiences can come together and air their concerns. Teenagers also receive health education at the facility.

Since the club opened in 2010, about 400 youngsters have been reached.

"They have their own space where they can share, they can learn, they confront their challenges. But more importantly, they empower one another to lead a life of dignity, a life which is productive; a life in which they can continue to dream," said Graca Machel, UNICEF global movement for children advocate.

Taking special care of their health is part of turning their dreams into reality. Weekly check-ups with local hospital staff ensure the teens follow the regimen of their anti-retroviral treatment.

"The adherence is also very poor, and you know they really need a supportive environment, and they always ask themselves, why I have to take this medicine, why am I getting sick regularly compared to the other friends," said Myo-zin Nyunt, chief of health and nutrition, UNICEF Namibia.

Ekandjo's sister Selma is happy with the progress her younger sister has made over the years, she says Ekandjo's has bounced back and is enjoying life.

"Sunday is a strong girl, even though she has HIV, she likes encouraging others. She is bright and passes her exams," said Ekandjo's big sister Selma.

According to the UN, Nambia ranks among the world's top five countries worst hit by the epidemic, with a HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of 18.8 percent and close to 3.5 percent infections per day.