Musa learned that she was living with HIV in 2009, through a routine TB Screening.
“I was in denial about my status. It didn’t make sense to me that I was HIV positive, as my three siblings were not HIV positive. I felt some kind of stigma from my relatives at home, so the journey was not as smooth as I expected it to be. But then later on I discovered that this was just a condition, and I can actually cope with it,” says Musa.
Fortunately, Musa found that accessing healthcare was not difficult. “Our clinic setup is good and has different departments. Usually when I encounter a challenge, I just march straight into the youth-friendly corner,” she says confidently.
Musa identifies the two biggest challenges to young people living with HIV in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, as stigma and discrimination. The patients at her clinic are mixed while they wait in queues, and OI (opportunistic infections) patients are easily identified by their unique patient folders. “This means that everyone knows who the OI patients are, and they often experience stigma and discrimination,” Musa says.
So how does Musa feel other young people living with HIV can move away from these challenges?
“You can empower someone that wants to be empowered with knowledge,” Musa says, “so at the end of the day we just encourage people to accept their status. No matter what society says, what the community says, it is their health that we are talking about. We tell them to stick to their medication and adhere correctly.”
Sister Nomusa Ndlovu has been working as a nurse for eight years, spending the last four working with adolescents and children.
“I have learned that young people and adults differ. Their expectations differ. We need to treat each of them differently. We shouldn’t use a formula; we are supposed to take each child as they come and be responsive to their needs individually.”
Empowering children is a major theme for Sister Nomusa as a nurse. “We empower with information on health issues. We try to boost their self-esteem because in fighting stigma, self-esteem is very important. You need to be confident in yourself and not worry about what people are saying. You must worry about your health, not about anyone else.”
Sister Nomusa also tries to bring parents, significant others, and partners into the conversation. They are invited to the clinic for discussions, they can meet other parents and caregiver, are provided knowledge and treatment literacy to break down any fears on managing HIV. They share different experiences and strategies for a healthy life.
“When young people have someone to talk to, when they know that Sister Nomusa is free, it becomes easier to get help. They don’t bottle up issues; we deal with their issues as they come up. That non-judgemental, open and caring attitude that we show them helps them to open up and boosts their esteem at the end of that day,” says Sister Nomusa.
This approach is important as one of the major issues resulting from stigma is a lack of adherence to medication.
“We have many adolescents who go to school or to work. They cannot take their medication on time, leading to poor adherence. That may lead to virological failure and can easily lead to opportunistic infections.”
Sister Nomusa has been Musa’s health provider for the last four years, and Musa says that there are many reasons why she has nominated Sister Nomusa as a Health Provider Champion.
“Firstly, Nomusa is a mother,” Musa says, “but when she gets to work, she removes the coat of being a mother, so when you walk into her office and present your issue to her, she acts like a sister; someone who cares for you and gives you proper guidance. The second thing is that Nomusa is not just a nurse to get a source of income. She does it from love. She has people at heart. You can call her at midnight with your challenges and she will listen and provide you the service that you need. She also tries to make sure that you are satisfied with the services. Finally, she shows she really cares about us by joining in with our adolescent time and not staying as an ‘adult.’ She can have fun with us. She does not make us feel small for wanting to play like kids.”
Sister Nomusa says the nomination as a Health Provider Champion has inspired her and validated her work.
“I feel honoured. It gives me the zeal to do even more for the kids I work with, to try and put a smile on their face.”
So, what message does Sister Nomusa have for young people living with HIV around the world?
“I want to encourage them to follow their dreams, HIV, or no HIV. They can still achieve optimum health and they can still live a normal life. Approach your health providers. We are free, we have online platforms that can be used, and every day that I go to work, I am there for you.”