Sharing personal experiences: True stories of young people living with HIV in Nigeria.
There are many barriers young people, especially adolescent girls and young women, including those living with HIV face, living
positively. Although the general response to HIV has improved significantly, stigma still exists and young people are still shamed to disclose their status. Having young people share their stories shatters stigma and ensures that their lived realities are reflected in policy development.
On 22nd November 2019, with stakeholders from government’s ministries and agencies, international partners, and civil society organizations, Education as a Vaccine and PITCH-AGYW partners in Nigeria screened a documentary on “Young People and their Experiences Living with HIV”.
The documentary tells the story of two young people living with HIV who share similar experiences with hundreds of thousands of adolescents and young people who are living with HIV in Nigeria; the barriers they face in accessing sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services, the current age of access to SRH services pegged at 18, and issues of user fee levied on adolescents and young people (AYP) who happen to be a dependent group.
“Growing up as a young person, I was always taking Anti-Retroviral Drug, I never knew what I was taking…I missed the drugs for so many times …a health care worker told me…once you stopped using the drugs, you are going to die”, Joy narrated her story.
Young people, especially adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) living with HIV face double stigma with social disadvantage. They experience emotional trauma and shocks of their reality.
“I was so devastated! From what the health care provider told me and what I have heard about HIV, I was so scared…I developed a self-stigma. For some time, I had to skip school because I never wanted my friends to know I was HIV positive…things got more complicated for me along the line because I was raped…and got pregnant…because of the attitude of health care providers towards me, I had to stop going for ante-natal” she added.
Attitudes of healthcare workers towards young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health services constitute a significant barrier to adolescents and young people’s access to services. Young people face other barriers; socio-cultural and financial, parental consent, etc which oftentimes affect their utilization and uptake of SRH information and services.
Nigeria laws including health-related laws, policies and guidelines often reflect the moral and cultural dispositions rather than contemporary understandings of access to SRH services as a human right. Beliefs that consider young people’s sexual and reproductive health-related matters a tabooed subject creates uncertainty around the issue of access to SRH services for adolescents.
Lack of clear documentation on guidelines for SRH service provision for adolescents makes health care providers express fear in providing needed services to adolescents below the age of 18. In addition, government health plans have clear priorities for and recognition of children and adults, but not for adolescents.
The other young person who shared his story had similar experience as Joy’s.
Reminiscing how his journey started, “When I was transferred from children to the adult stage, I didn’t know there was anything called user fee, so I just went with my card as usual…when I dropped it on the table, the lady asked me, “where is your 200 naira”?…she told me to take my card back and bring 200 Naira with me…as for me, I am done with secondary school and unemployed”.
The experiences of Joy and others are no different from thousands of sexually active adolescents being denied the right to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services as a result of stigma, the barrier of the age of access and demand for user fee at the point of service.
The documentary screening enabled dialogue on a panel between policy-makers, partners and young people living with HIV to drive the conversation on how access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services for young people will be prioritised in Nigeria.
“If we don’t lower the age of access to services, it’s impossible to generate evidence. Enabling independent access is important for young people including the KPs to access services”, Segun Sangowawa, Program and Business Development Manager, Population Council Nigeria.
For young people living with HIV to thrive and to live in health, they need care and support from family, friends and health care providers, including policies and laws that favour their peculiar issues and challenges.
AYPs especially those living with HIV deserve better SRH services devoid of stigma and discrimination. The documentary might prove crucial in changing the attitude of healthcare workers, the approval of reduction of the age of access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive services to 14, and user fee exemption for adolescent and young people.
Watch the video here https://youtu.be/mupnckQxzJM
Written By: Bayo Olanrewaju Ewuola