Why adolescent girls living with HIV need more support

Jane lost her parents to HIV, unfortunately she was also born positive. She had lived with the virus for 15 years. Jane’s life starts in a remote village in Homabay county where she born and grew up. The difficult life of living with relatives after her parents died forced her to travel to travel from Homabay to Nairobi at the age of 15 years. She travelled with her uncle who promised her a better life in the city, “my uncle sounded very optimistic” she said. Jane’s uncle told her that Nairobi would be a better option for her. “He lived in Nairobi, so I believed him” Jane said. In reality, that was far from the truth.

Her uncle’s attitude changed when Jane talked about going to school. In April 2017, her uncle said she was a burden to the family and kicked her out.  Jane was forced to sleep in the streets. “When I found out that my uncle did not care about me, it added a wound in my heart, I was willing to do anything, considering the fact that I had run out antiretroviral,” Jane recalls.

As the world celebrates International Day of the Girl on October 11th, under the theme “My voice, our equal future”, Jane’s story reminds us the challenges of many adolescent’s girls are living with HIV. According to avert, more than half (51%) of all new HIV infections in Kenya in 2015 occurred among adolescents and young people (aged 15-24 years). 51% is a rapid rise from 29% two years previous in 2013.

Globally, over 2 million adolescents are still living with HIV and there is an estimated 8 million who are exposed to HIV but not infected. Furthermore, according to UNAIDS 2019 data, there are an estimated 11.4 million adolescent mothers in sub-Saharan Africa, 42% of adolescent girls living in urban areas, more than 50% living in the rural areas have been pregnant and four out of every five new infections among 15-19-year olds in sub Saharan Africa occur among adolescent girls.

This year’s International Day of the Girl focuses on the girls demand to Live free from gender-based violence, harmful practices, and HIV and AIDS , learn new skills towards the futures they choose , and lead as a generation of activists accelerating social change.

We ask, what can government’s, civil society organizations, religious leaders and other key stakeholders do to ensure that girls use their voices for a better future?

Access to quality and affordable education:

Millions of girls around the world are still not able to access quality education due to poverty. According to human right watch,  49 million girls are not in either primary or secondary school in sub-Saharan Africa.  Girls who don’t go school are more likely to be married at an early age. Ensuring that more resources are put towards girl’s education will help ensure we rescue more girls from unplanned early pregnancies and negative vices in the community.

Creating safe and supportive communities that support adolescents’ mothers living with HIV and their children to access quality health services:

We should develop interventions that address adolescent fathers, caregivers and families in discussions on HIV prevention, masculinity, beliefs on gender roles, gender-based violence, planning and preparing for children and parenting should all be considered.

These safe spaces should be developed by girls for girls in their communities. Presently some safe spaces have been turned into places of violating girls. The Kenyan government should develop clear guidelines and requirements for developing girls’ safe spaces to prevent this from happening going forward. It is at these safe spaces where girls’ voices can be amplified.

Provision of age appropriate sex education and access quality health services:

Most teenage girls do not have information regarding pregnancy and sex. Sex conversations in some families are still considered a “taboo”. Most of the information they have about sex are acquired mainly through their peers. This leaves the girls very vulnerable to distorted information. Establishment of girls’ friendly community health centers will help the girls in accessing the much-needed health care and information.

Jane was eventually rescued from the streets  in 2018 by a local organization.  She is currently using her voice to raise awareness about issues affecting adolescents’ girls including HIV.

Article by Victor Odhiambo

Garden of Hope Foundation

 Co-Founder and Executive Director

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