Breaking free from HIV stigma

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At the age of 12, most adolescents are on their journey to self-discovery. Their worries are centred around the onset of puberty that has their bodies transforming, the quest for freedom and how the world perceives them. For Brian Obi, he will forever remember himself at this age. It was then that he first tested positive for HIV.

Although he did not understand what was going on at that moment, his positive status changed his entire life in an instant. ‘I remember I used to fall sick often. One day, my mom took me to hospital for some tests and since then, my life has never been the same again’, he begins.  He was put on medication which he takes to date. No one explained to him why the tests were conducted or even what drugs he was taking and why he had to take them on a daily basis. ‘I have always trusted my mother and since she told me I had to take the medication, I knew she meant well for me, so I took them without much interrogation’, he narrates.

It was at the age of 16 that Brian came to understand what it means to be HIV positive and that the drugs he took every day were Anti-Retro Viral drugs which help in delaying the progression of HIV and make one less susceptible to opportunistic infections.

Brian Obi, HIV Activist and Faya Project Youth Champion

‘My mother never disclosed my status to me. I learned that I was HIV positive through the support group that I used to attend in the facility where I picked my medication’.  The age-appropriate support group initially encouraged him to adhere to his medication at age 12-13. He later transitioned to the 15-16 years old support group that demystified HIV to him.

 His journey to self-acceptance was not without stigma and discrimination from his peers especially in high school. ‘When I was in Form Two, my friends from home suspected that I was HIV positive. They went on to spread the rumours in school. This was my worst experience of stigma as there were whispers all around me. I felt so alone and my life in school became unbearable to a point I wanted to quit’, an emotional Brian narrates.

However, through the support of his family, his donor at the facility and his class teacher, Brian underwent several counselling sessions that enabled him to put all that behind him. ‘In 2018, I made a choice to accept myself because by doing that, I no longer gave people power over my life’.

It has been three years since Brian disclosed his status to the public. Besides being an Electrical and Electronics Engineering graduate, he is an Adolescent and Young Persons (AYP) champion attached to the Mombasa Catholic CBHC Health Facility in Mikindani, the same facility that supported him since he tested positive. In addition, Brian is one of the Youth Champions that the Faya project is working with as a CSE educator to provide factual sex education and refer adolescents for SRH services uptake at health facilities in Mombasa County.

‘To all Adolescents and Young People living with HIV, accept yourself, be responsible over your own health by adhering to your medication and do not let what other people think about you stop you from living your life. To those who are HIV negative, ensure that you protect yourself by abstaining or properly using condoms and get to know the facts on HIV as it is the lack of factual information that leads to stigma and discrimination of those living positively’ he concludes.

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