Meet 18-year-old Lydiah Nyambe, currently a student in her third year of high school in Kisii County. She is a strong and smart girl, who learned about her HIV status five years ago and is not afraid to tell her story to any young person who will care to listen. “When someone who is HIV positive talks to you, you will listen because they fully understand what it feels like,” she says.
When Lydiah was just 12 years old, she and her younger brother were forced to go live with their grandparents after being abandoned by their mother. A year later, Lydiah was to learn that she was HIV positive after being forced to go to hospital following complications that arose from an injury she sustained on her toe while learning how to plow. “The wound on my toe persisted and affected my whole body. I started having rashes all over my body,” she reveals. She went to the hospital on the advice of her school head teacher and this is when she was diagnosed with HIV.
This young lady started facing stigmatization immediately from her family. For starters, her grandmother who had escorted her to the hospital left her there on learning about the HIV positive diagnosis. The news about her status was broken to her by the attending nurse. “Life changed at home since my grandparents started seeing me as a living corpse. They separated me and said all kinds of insults to me since they believed I was just dying,” she says. Lydiah, however, got some encouragement after she started receiving counseling in hospital after which she was introduced to anti-retroviral medication. “It was difficult to accept at first, and I had difficulty taking my medication as instructed by the hospital. But eventually, I learned to accept,” she reveals.
In the past three years, she has been in and out of school due to lack of school fees and has also been forced to transfer schools three times due to continued stigmatization in the school once her HIV status has been disclosed. For the past one year, I Choose Life – Africa through the ERIKS Jiimarishe project has been able to offer her some support to complete her education as well as cater for some of her basic needs. The project, which is being implemented in Kisii County has been funded by ERIKS Development Partner and it aims at improving the Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) outcomes and address the underlying determinants of HIV infection among adolescents.
“I would like to work hard and be a great lady in future, for people to know that HIV status does not matter,” she declares. “I have spent so much time in the hospital around doctors and this has made me develop a passion for medicine. I, therefore, want to study medicine and also be a psychosocial counselor,” she adds. During her free time, Lydia mentors about 78 youth aged between 10 to 24 years who are currently receiving treatment for HIV at Gucha District Hospital. “I would like young people who are HIV positive to be brave and openly declare their status and for people who are negative to stop thinking that HIV is a death sentence,” she advises. Lydia would like to see more mentorship activities targeted at the youth and she believes these activities should be driven by youth who are HIV positive as they are better placed to empathize.
According to government statistics, Lydia is just one among 6.2 percent of youth aged 15-24 years in the former Nyanza province, where Kisii County is located, who have HIV. This is three times higher than the national youth HIV prevalence rate of 2 percent. There is, therefore, a need for investment in interventions that address the plight of young people living with HIV for their smooth reintegration into society.