On Thursday, December 1, Malawi will join the rest of the world in commemorating the World Aids Day. Our reporter, FATSANI GUNYA engages Bravo Nyirenda, an adolescent’s coordinator with Dignitas International, a medical and research non-governmental organisation working in areas of HIV management, to find out how it has contributed to the promotion of healthy lives for adolescents living with HIV in the country.
Ahead of this year’s World Aids Day commemorations, how do you think Dignitas has contributed to promotion of healthy lives for adolescents living with HIV?
Dignitas is one of the leading organisations in programmatic interventions aimed at reducing barriers that prevent people from adhering to antiretroviral treatment, maximising the success in achieving sustained viral suppression in adolescents, including targeted access to HIV services, retention in care and adherence to ART. I also regard highly the role of Dignitas’ adolescent programme, which is an innovative group-based support intervention that provides treatment, care and psycho social support to adolescents living with HIV.
You recently participated at an international health conference. In brief, what was the conference all about?
It was a global conference on issues concerning mothers, newborn babies and Children health. It was organised by Canadian Network for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (CAN-MNCH), which catalyses Canadian collaboration among 100 Partners who are improving women’s and children’s health in 1 000 communities worldwide. The organising network does this by capitalising on the data revolution, connecting experts, and communicating impact to stakeholders. Through the power of partnership, CAN-MNCH strives to realise a world where every woman and child survives and thrives. As Dignitas International, our focus was on child health; especially my presentation was on the interventions we are implementing in supporting adolescents living with HIV and AIDS. The Conference happened in Montreal, Canada.
Can you share some highlights of the presentation you made at the conference?
I presented a paper titled The Ongoing HIV Epidemic in Adolescents: Strategies from the Field to Combat the Leading Cause of Adolescent Death in Africa. Basically, we are doing much in dealing with trends in the HIV epidemic among adolescents in Malawi and the Southern Africa region although we still have a long way to go. Similarly, we need to improve on ART coverage as we expect to enroll increased numbers of adolescents living with HIV under the Test and Treat strategy.
I also emphasised programmatic interventions to reduce potential barriers to adherence to ART and maximise the success in achieving sustained viral suppression in adolescents including targeted access to HIV services, retention in care and adherence to ART including the role of Teen Clubs—an innovative group—based support intervention which provides treatment, care and psycho-social support to adolescents living with HIV
Finally, I also presented on strategies and interventions to support adolescents as they transition to adulthood and the adolescent experience of living with HIV in Malawi and Southern Africa, which I noted that the audience keenly followed as they asked much on the process of transition from adolescent care to adult care.
You met Karina Gould, Canada’s Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development. What did you discuss?
The meeting was held on November 4. I was selected following a successful presentation I made during the conference. As part of the round table discussion, Gould held a round table with a few of us delegates. She was very much interested in discussing the challenges and opportunities we all have in achieving the Sustainable Development Goal number three [Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages].
As an adolescent’s coordinator what are the main challenges youths face in the country?
Generally, they are inadequate nutrition support, lack of parental support, teenage pregnancies, stigma and discrimination, orphan hood, poor adherence to HIV/Aids, treatment and many more.
How best do you suggest such youths can be supported?
We have to introduce a number of youth-oriented programmes such as a scale-up of disclosure training to let adolescents know their HIV status and understand their health to reduce stigma and discrimination. There is a need to introduce mobile phone-based health messages on treatment.
We also need to work with the youths to develop transition plans that will see them properly move from being young ones to adults. There is also need for collaboration/partnership with other youth agencies and government to promote and sustain youth programme in order to support the adolescents who lack parental support. We also need to introduce Teen Mom Clubs that will deal with teenage pregnancies, care of new born babies and prevention of children from contracting the HIV virus from their HIV infected mothers (PMTCT) and there need to scale up dedicated psychosocial support groups for adolescents living with HIV to provide counseling and guidance.
I also think of sustaining a toll free teen helpline to support teenagers who have no one to direct their questions to.
Finally, I am thinking of having many youth friendly health services and youth corners for the young ones to mingle and get guidance from trained personnel on their various medical and social needs.