Rose is among the majority of youngsters living with HIV in Tanzania. She was born HIV positive and started using antiretroviral (ARVs) treatment at the age of six.
Raised by her grandmother, Rose came to know about her status at age seven after the death of her biological mother. A t the age of two, Rose was abandoned by her father.
However, she confessed to have started engaging herself in unsafe sex with different partners when she was at 16, despite knowing her health status.
"I couldn't have the guts to tell my partners that I am HIV positive, this would remain my secret, but I don't know what would happen to me if they discovered,” she explains.
Adolescents living with HIV are one of the most vulnerable groups and are at risk of spreading the virus to their peers due to a lack of education on how to protect themselves and others. The reporter in collaboration with Chimbua Communication learnt how is the journey of these HIV+ adolescents to their adulthood.
According to the Network of Young People Living with HIV in Tanzania (NYP+), juvenile people between the ages of 10-20 contracted HIV from their mothers while they were still in the womb, at birth, or during breastfeeding.
Adolescents face the challenge of physical and behavioural changes that lead them to engage in sexual activity, and other risky behaviours.
Among other things, young girls and boys were partly vulnerable to having unprotected sex which is the leading cause of HIV infection in the world.
Sophia Meleki (20) a resident of Kisarawe District, Coast Region narrates: “My parents died and left me in very bad condition, I was very sick, I postponed my Standard One studies. My uncle took me to a health centre where I was diagnosed with HIV when I was seven-years-old, and immediately started ARVs treatment.”
Meleki said after knowing her health status she was upset; she was aware that HIV/AIDS is dangerous since their teachers were teaching about it.
“I was crying knowing that my life was coming to an end, but thanks to health workers for counselling me,” she mentioned
“I am looking good, my friends and neighbours don't know that I am HIV positive. I dropped out of school when I was in Form Two. I met my first boyfriend when I was 16 years old. I never asked men to use protection, actually they don't want to...I don't think of telling any of my partners that I am living with HIV, I am afraid to lose them,” Meleki explained.
Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, annual Prevention from Mother to a Child (PMTCT) programme reports 2019 indicates that the number of new HIV infections decreased from 82,000 in 2018 to 77,000 in 2019.
According to the report, the country is facing a challenge of new HIV infections among youngsters between the ages of 15 and 24, making it clear that nationally the rate of new infections in young people is 40 per cent, with young women at 80 per cent and men at 20 per cent.
UNAIDS the drafted 2020 Tanzania HIV estimates suggest that there were 6,500 new infections among children below 15-year-olds.
Tanzania HIV Impact Survey (THIS) 2016-17, findings from the report revealed that 5.0 per cent of adults (15-64 years) in Tanzania are currently living with HIV. A large percentage of these adults – nearly 40% – are unaware of their positive status, well below the UNAIDS target of 90% of all people living with HIV knowing their status by 2020.
Both children with HIV and others need security, awareness and safety while at school. And education is their right in line with Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) 4 which aims to ensure inclusive and equitable education.
More measures are needed to be taken to support the prevention of HIV and protection among vulnerable children and to address challenges that are affecting them right from home to school.
Speaking on security and safety of children at school, Lenatus Mgimwa, who is a Head teacher at Itizi Primary School in Mbeya, said they do provide education to their pupils about HIV/Aids.
“We have special teachers who have devoted their time to give awareness to the pupils about the pandemic as a whole. For those children suspected to have HIV are excluded from heavy duties and punishment,” he elaborated.
He detailed that there's no list of school children with HIV in his office, because the community is not ready to disclose their HIV status, to them living with HIV is still a confidential issue.
Mgimwa explained that some men hunt for school children to sexually assault them with false belief that they are safe. This is because the community is hiding the truth about the reality, and those infected are visiting far clinics for ARVs.
"I raised Amani Kaburu, he is 19-years-old with strong muscles, nobody can think he’s HIV positive. He dates girls. His mother died when he was two after a long illness. His father committed suicide after finding out that his wife was HIV positive,” Kaburu’s grandmother Maua Mgosi, a resident of Buza Dar es Salaam stated.
“It reached the point that my grandson completely refused to take ARVs and stopped going to the clinic. I forced him to go and get medicine and persuaded him to take it; there were times he would not take medication for several days,” she explained.
Kaburu's grandmother said there are so many challenges in rising up a HIV-positive child, as sometimes he/she can refuse to go to school, while mentioning that she persisted until Kaburu finished Standard VII.
She therefore urged caregivers to be careful when talking to children with HIV/AIDS; because they need awareness about protecting themselves and their fellow children from within the family to the street.
Byabato Kaizilege, a resident of Buguruni, Ilala district is among the caregivers to children living with HIV, sharing his experience he said his sister was a single-parent, she underwent a caesarean birth at 36. After two years in 2006 she died and left her daughter under his care. One night she got a high fever and he took her to a paediatrician and was diagnosed with HIV.
“It needs a kind-heart to raise a child with HIV, I was forced to hide her health status from other members of the family fearing that they might isolate and abandon her when I am not around,” he intoned, stating that he is a tailor by profession and he taught his niece tailoring and they are work together, adding that she is his responsibility.
Director of Preventive Services in Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Dr Leonard Subi said that those who deliberately infect others are not educated, they still need education.
“Infecting others is an offence, they should be held accountable according to The HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act 2008,” he said adding that the Act states that “Any person who intentionally transmits HIV to another person and on conviction shall be liable to imprisonment to relating a term of not less than five years and not exceeding ten years,”.
He advised people to avoid having pre-marital and unprotected sex, before going for HIV test or use self HIV kit, while insisting that the Government provides free testing service.
“Once a person tested and diagnosed HIV Negative should continue to take care of oneself, those with Positive results should start taking medications,” he urged.
Dr. Subi detailed that the Act has been passed and its implementation is on-going with the aim of making all Tanzanians targeted by this Act aware of their health.
“We continue to educate the community on shunning risk behaviour, we are looking at whom / which group get more infected with HIV, and in addition we are also looking at ways to the PMCT,” he emphasized.
Uganda is among African countries which have passed laws against transmitting HIV. In 2008, Magistrate Geofrey Salaume sentenced a 47 year-old HIV-positive man for 14 years in jail for having sex with a mentally ill young woman and allegedly infecting her with HIV.
The Chairperson of NYP+ Pudensiana Mbwiliza underscored that if a person is aware that he/she is HIV positive, and intentionally goes to transmit to another that is dangerous.
“Once the partner finds out he/she can do something bad, it is also wrong legally and humanly to intentionally infect someone,” he said.
Mbwiliza explained that many young people do not reveal the truth about their HIV status to avoid being stigmatized, refused employment, and isolated in society, the situation leads to rising infections rate.
“I'm different, I didn't lie to my husband, he is HIV Negative, we are living happily with our little baby,” she intoned.
According to her, the network has 365 active members representing all districts. They are providing education to over 6000 youngsters living with HIV across the country on self-protection against new HIV infections, protecting others, proper utilization of ARVs treatment and Condoms.
Nevala Kyando Coordinator with NYP+ said the network is advancing the welfare of the majority of young people living with HIV (PLHIV) and adolescents aged 15-24 in responding to the challenges of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
“We have a dedication to freeing the society from new HIV infections and improving the lives of those infected, through capacity building, networking, lobbying and advocacy programs,” he affirmed.
Over 30 years have passed since the first cases of HIV/AIDS were reported in Tanzania. According to World Health Organization (WHO) report 2018, since its beginning, 75 million people have been infected with HIV and an estimated 0.8 per cent (0.6-0.9%) of adults aged 15-49 years worldwide are living with HIV.
Apart from ARVs, there is no cure for HIV/AIDS. The government is required to integrate reproductive health into the curriculum to empower students aged between 13 and 18 years to avoid putting themselves at risk, as well as give them awareness on avoiding engaging into pre-marital sex.