24 August 2018
When HIV Unites People...
In July 2018, on the picturesque shore of the Issyk-Kul lake, Kyrgyzstan, over 200 clinical care providers, psychologists, social workers, children and adolescents living with HIV and their parents from Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan participated in an event, which was the first of its kind. This regional seminar and the camp were organized by UNICEF in collaboration with UNAIDS, UK Children’s HIV Association (CHIVA) and the Paediatric European Network on AIDS Treatment (PENTA).
Even though the rest of the world has controlled the spread of HIV, the number of people living with HIV continues to increase rapidly in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
With 1.6 million people living with HIV in the region, estimated 190,000 new HIV cases were registered in 2016, according to UNAIDS. The HIV epidemic in the region results in making the affects people the most marginalized and excluded. And this includes children and adolescents living with HIV.
“I was thrilled to talk to peers from other countries and to learn that scientists are exploring new medicines against HIV,” said Alina (name changed), a 15-year old girl living with HIV in Uzbekistan. Alina is one of 60 children living with HIV, who took part in the therapeutic camp. The camp brought together children who already know their HIV status, but need to enhance their understanding and attitude to live positively with HIV, stay motivated and adhere to the treatment.
11 children from 9 regions of Uzbekistan participated in the camp activities. For many children attending the therapeutic camp, it was the first time they could talk openly with peers about their fears of disclosing their HIV status to siblings, friends and family. They shared their anxieties about what their future holds for them, and the stigma and discrimination that they experience every day.
Care providers – either healthcare workers or family members – are the first source of support for children living with HIV. This workshop provided an opportunity to discuss the latest advances in HIV treatment and care for the clinical care providers and psychologists. It also created a platform to learn about improving communication between adolescents and their parents or other caregivers on sensitive issues like mental health, substance abuse, sexuality, autonomy and trust.
“By bringing adolescents, parents, doctors, psychologists and care providers from five countries all together into the same space – we were able to enhance their mutual dialogue, understanding and acceptance. These exchanges were deeply transformative. They will help UNICEF work towards building more inclusive societies that accept and respect all people, regardless of their differences, their health status, ability, education, religious beliefs, ethnicity, behaviours, or gender identity and where all children living with HIV will be equal members of their societies, able to speak openly about HIV and realize their dreams and full potential. ” explained Nina Ferencic, Senior Advisor on HIV/AIDS, Adolescents’ Development and Participation at the UNICEF Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia.
“At the first trainings for healthcare workers that we conducted a few years back jointly with UNICEF in this region, we did not have any participation of young people or their families. Now, we have moved towards hearing their views and understanding their needs in what has been a fully mixed programme. Working with people is a fundamental part of addressing HIV and AIDS in children and adolescents,” said Steve Welsch, head trainer of PENTA.
This camp and training programme is a great example of horizontal cooperation, skills sharing and networking between the countries in the regions and top international experts. It has resulted not only in the exchange of state-of-the-art knowledge, but has also built trust and long lasting connections and friendships that will help reduce stigma and discrimination towards all people affected by HIV in the region.
The story adapted from Veronika Vashchenko, Chief of Communication, UNICEF Kyrgyzstan
UNICEF is the driving force that helps build a world where the rights of every child are realized. We have the global authority to influence decision-makers, and the variety of partners at grassroots level to turn the most innovative ideas into reality. That makes us unique among world organizations, and unique among those working with the young.