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Young People Need HIV Care and Services, Too

Let’s face it—when it comes to HIV care in many countries, adolescents are often left behind. And Namibia is no exception.

In several regions in Namibia, there are few—if any—health services that cater specifically to young people. Although the Namibian Ministry of Health and Social Services provides clear direction in its National Guidelines on Adolescents Living with HIV, published in 2012, there still is a shortage of these services.

This is soon to change if the adolescent care team at Shanamutango Clinic in Onandjodkwe Hospital achieves one of its most important goals: to improve the lives of youth living with HIV in Namibia.

The club sessions became a safe environment to share hardships and emotional turmoil.

This team of dedicated health workers includes a doctor, nurses, community counselors, community volunteers, and me, a former Peace Corps volunteer. Of HIV/AIDS clinics, Shanamutango is third in the country for client volume. It’s a one-stop-center where clients can get not only HIV care, but services for diabetes, hypertension, psychiatric care, and more.

While gathering background information on the services provided to our adolescent clients at Shanamutango, it become evident that more could and should be done. We began by revamping an existing teen club to make it more adolescent-centered, mainly by ensuring that the activities and topics covered were what our teens really wanted.This was a great start. The teens became more engaged in the sessions, freely participating in the activities and openly voicing their opinions. Soon the club sessions became a safe environment for the teens to not only share their hardships, but to deal with their emotional turmoil.

For example, after a failed suicide attempt, one of our teen members attended a session on personal development, and decided to write and direct a play on self-esteem. This teen is now one of the teen leaders and has started a teen club drama group.

This aspiring director showed us that the teen club sessions had become a place of self-healing and helping others along the way.    Although the teen club was making a great impact on our teens’ lives, it wasn’t enough to counter the myriad problems they face in their homes and in society. They needed so much more: social, educational, family planning, and even community outreach services.

In order to address all of these issues, we needed to devise a comprehensive program, which became Shanamutango’s Adolescent Care Program.

Today the program includes a teen club, a caregivers’ club, health education, adolescent-only family planning services, and community outreach.

The adolescent family planning service helps young clients prevent sexually transmitted infections.

The teen club meets twice a month, once for members aged 10-14 and again for teens aged 15-19. The caregivers’ program also meets twice a month, allowing caregivers to build their parenting skills and discuss the social topics that may hinder their teens’ adherence to antiretroviral therapy treatment.

The adolescent family planning service—provided by nurses with whom the teens are familiar—gives young clients information on contraceptives and how to prevent sexually transmitted infections.

Health education sessions are available each day for questions on any health topic that a teen may have. Periodic community outreach helps combat the social issues they face.

Now we’re running a campaign to combat HIV stigma in our communities in the Oshana and Oshikoto regions. The campaign, called STOP THE STIGMA, mainly focuses on school children and will run through the second and third school terms (May–December).

Although HIV is covered in Namibia’s national curriculum, myths are still prevalent and lead to a lot of discrimination. The adolescent care team at Shanamutango works to help people understand the struggles as well as the triumphs of those living with HIV, so at every educational session, myths are debunked and a person living with HIV tells his or her story.

With the help of IntraHealth International, we’ve trained health workers in northern Namibia to provide these and other services teens need in the Oshakati district hospital, Onayena and Onyaanya health centers, and Olukonda health clinic. We’ve also devised a manual for health workers and Peace Corps Volunteers on how to start teen clubs at their respective sites.

We are determined to continue training health care workers throughout all of Namibia until all regions have adolescent-centered HIV care services.

Our hope is that soon, HIV-positive adolescents in Namibia will no longer be left behind.

Since 2005, IntraHealth International has worked with Shanamutango Clinic to provide high-quality services, train its HIV counsellors and nurses, manage its human resources, and more. IntraHealth’s work in Namibia is funded by the US Agency for International Development. Learn more.

Also read: At Shanamutango Clinic, Young People Get the Care They Need and More