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Children still grow up separated from their families in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Empowering Positive Adolescents
Access to right information, along with supportive peers, can go a long way in empowering adolescents living with HIV (ALHIV) to adapt, thrive and help others who share similar experience. Murat from Andijan region is a perfect example: “I came here to learn more about my disease. I want to have good information, so that when I go back to my city I can work with my peers. I have had many problems, especially with my weight loss and the lack of appetite. I had no strength and had to stay home for a long time. I didn’t know what to do with my disease. I started antiretroviral therapy (ART) because doctors recommended it to me. My strength came back and I regained my appetite. I became a different person.”
The same could be said of Guzal, a 17-year-old from Tashkent who spent up to a year-and-a-half out of school: “I didn’t know much about HIV. I also had difficulties to communicate with my peers; boys and girls about this. I had never heard about living with HIV in a positive way.”
These young people are participants of a week-long training in Tashkent organized by UNICEF and the Ministry of Health of Uzbekistan. They have joined a group of sixty other ALHIV and caregivers in Tashkent over this autumn break in schools. Coming from nine different regions in Uzbekistan, they are being equipped to adjust well to a positive lifestyle so that they can flourish as adolescents and become peer educators for those who face similar challenges as they do. The sessions are aimed at strengthening personal responsibility for their own health, improving their ability to communicate with parents and doctors and increasing their capacity to volunteer in day care centers.
As a UNICEF staff noted, everything begins with providing adequate and right information which many have been deprived of, even in their homes. For many trainees, this is the first opportunity to hear in-depth explanations about HIV and to have their questions and doubts answered. A second step is to teach personal hygiene, adequate nutrition, proper intake of ART, and protection from other high-risk diseases such as tuberculosis (TB). This knowledge enables them to lead healthy lifestyles, adapt well to their situation and serve as role models for peers. They are also trained in communication and conflict resolving skills so that they can offer greater support at the centers. UNICEF staff believes that as adolescents thrive, they will be motivated to volunteer and carry forward the impact of their training, particularly since they have shared this experience with peers over the last few days.
Guzal seems to be headed in this direction. As she put it: “Now I have become interested in researching more about my disease. I want to help my peers who struggle with depression or a sense of alienation because of HIV, so that they won’t be afraid of it.”
Similarly, highlighting the importance of peers, Murad is confident of the type of help he needs to provide: “Now I have new friends in this group, and new information about my disease. I have understood one thing: if I give information it has to be the right information. Not try to cover up the truth. If I give the correct information, then others will have the best understanding of what HIV is, the risks of getting infected, the danger of TB, and about what we should eat to have good nutrition.”
Both Guzal and Murad excited to share their knowledge and their supportiveness. They are on the right path to becoming role models for their peers in the country.