Born with HIV and living on the streets in Zimbabwe is a double challenge to say the least, but this was the situation for Anashe* who was orphaned in 2007, when he was 12.
He used to socialise with a cohort of five adolescent boys whom he considered close friends, but even so he did not disclose his HIV status to them until 2010.
Finding food was a major challenge for Anashe. He used to beg on the streets or look for left-over food in restaurant litter containers. “My friends and l used to wake early and deploy each other to different places. After an hour or so we then returned to the base with some food, which then we shared but this was not easy at all,” he said.
According to the Zimbabwe National HIV & AIDS National Estimates 2013, the HIV prevalence rate among adolescents and young people between the ages of 15-24 years is 5.31 per cent. Adolescents and young people living with HIV have many unmet needs, and in some places, efforts to support them are making a real difference.
Newlands Clinic: support where it’s needed
In Zimbabwe, if you collect medication from a local clinic you are supposed to pay $1 as an admission fee. However, Newlands Clinic in North East of Harare Metropolitan Province offers HIV prevention, counselling, treatment, care and support services entirely free of charge. This is made possible through the mother organisation of Newlands Clinic: Swiss Aids Care International, funded by donations and by contributions from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).
Matthias Widmaier, Newlands Clinic country director, said: “HIV therapy is free for Newlands Clinic patients. We provide HIV prevention, counselling, treatment, care and support to 5,700 under-privileged adults and children living with HIV and AIDS, particularly women, children and adolescents.”
Accessing HIV treatment became easier for Anashe in October 2009 when he started collecting his free medication at Newlands Clinic. Howver, the major challenge he encountered was a private and safe place to store his medication.
Anashe said: “I used to hide my medication on a nearby gate which was close to our base from 2007 because l did not want anyone to know my HIV status even my friends, in 2010 the caretaker then discovered that l have a tendency of visiting the same place often and that is how he got to know about my HIV status.” After this, Anashe decided to disclose his HIV status to his friends.
Newlands Clinic offers additional support to patients such as food aid and payment of school fees if they need it. A vocational skills programme is financed by Swiss Aids Care International and carried out by Africaid Zvandiri. Here, HIV positive adolescents and young people are assisted to secure employment with an income to support them both now and in the future.
Anashe joined the Zvandiri Programme in 2013 and in 2014 he was trained to be a community adolescent treatment supporter. He was responsible for counselling and supporting a cohort of HIV positive children and adolescents who lived on the streets by visiting them where they slept and hung out on the streets. He identified any challenges they faced with adherence and traced those who were defaulting with their treatment. He also referred children and adolescents to service providers to deal with for possible opportunistic infections, treatment failure, child protection issues, psychosocial support and sexual and reproductive health needs.
In 2014, Anashe also joined the vocational skills programme where he trained as a painter and decorator at Harare Polytechnic College. He is now a professional painter.
In 2015, 1,803 children, adolescents and young people accessed a wide range of youth- friendly services from Newlands Clinic. The clinic runs a special adolescent corner (Zvandiri Centre) and this facility allows adolescents and young people to meet and share experiences. Peer counsellors offer further support by counselling sessions and specialised support groups.
Anashe said: “Newlands Clinic and Africaid’s Zvandiri programme alters my life through knowledge and skills which l acquire from them.”
In Zimbabwe, there is need for such clinics in all ten provinces so that adolescents and young people across the country can access friendly services. This will help Zimbabwe reach the UNAIDS ‘90-90-90’ target. This states that 90 percent of people with HIV will know their status, 90 percent of all living with HIV will receive antiretroviral therapy and 90 percent of all receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral load suppression.
*Name changed to protect identity