“Take your medication well, suppress your viral load and the future is bright!”

In a Q&A, peer supporter Lubega Kizza, shares his hopes for 2018 and the challenges and opportunities that come with improving paediatric and adolescent HIV prevention, treatment, care and support in sub-Saharan Africa

“Take your medication well, suppress your viral load and the future is bright!”

My name is Lubega Kizza and I am a PATA peer supporter for Mulago-Mbarara AIDS Program (MJAP) ISS Clinic, in Uganda. I am a Young Person Living with HIV (YPLHIV) with a Bachelor’s Degree in Pharmacy and I want to study a Master’s Degree in Public Health. I joined the clinic in 2015. I was at home when one of the health providers called me and said “Hello Lubega, there is an opportunity with MJAP and I think you have the potential to apply.” I then applied, was successful and began as a peer supporter. I am happy to say that when I joined there was no adolescent centre but today adolescents can openly come and access services freely.

It is a new year, which for some means a chance for new goals. What is one thing that you want to achieve as a peer supporter this year?

Wow, that is a nice question. I want to encourage more young people to be open and take their medication well, because their future is long. You can think ‘I have HIV and my world has ended’, but please, please, please take your medication well. When your viral load is suppressed the future is bright. I want to become a role model for these young people, based on my experiences, and show them how good life can be if you take your medication.

In terms of innovation, how else can we ensure adolescents are coming back to health facilities for treatment? Have you found there is a way to go a step further than education?

I want to start by explaining that our clinic is more medicine based so there were no specific programmes for psychosocial support before peer supporters started. If we can provide more psychosocial support, it will bring young people back to health facilities.

Psychosocial support addresses the ongoing psychological and social issues of people living with HIV, their partners, families and caregivers – WHO

We also need to develop income generating activities. The clinic creates a meeting space, but we need to use this space to create joint ventures among the youth. These will help the youth to keep busy and allow them to reach out to more YPLHIV. Once they are out of school, it will also keep them busy and help them to understand the importance of life.

One step further would be to encourage income generating activities that can help YPLHIV to raise school fees to continue their education. One example of this is that at MJAP, we keep YPLHIV busy by baking cakes, which are sold to help them earn a living.

Describe for us what it feels like when you know that you’ve made a difference in a peer’s life?

It really feels great because my dream has always been to make a difference in young people’s lives. When I was growing up, I always wanted to be a pediatrician so this has given me a reason to work even harder. I sometimes even go to the Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) department to check if the peers that I’m supporting are keeping up with appointments and are virally suppressed. If I found out that they are not, I feel as though I haven’t performed as well as I’d like as a peer supporter and I really feel bad. However, if am told that my peers are responding well to treatment and returning to care, this gives me joy and encouragement to continue supporting other peers to be like me or do even more than I have done.

M&E allows you to use information to work out if you are making a positive difference, and if there are changes or improvements that you can make so that your work is even more effective – PATA Clinic-Community Collaboration Toolkit

Describe for us what it feels like when you know that you’ve offered a supportive role to a health facility or health provider and eased their workload?

It took the other health providers time to accept the fact that we are here to support our fellow peers to continue taking their medicine, rather than take their jobs. But now they have realised how resourceful we are and now we work to together to help reach YPLHIV at the facility.

In your experience, where do health facilities or peer supporters need help? What could make this work easier?

PATA gives peer supporters a monthly stipend but I would like to see the facilities add on to that, to create a real income for the service that we provide. It would also be good for governments to start thinking about how to provide an income for peer supporters who are contributing their time and efforts to health facilities.

We also need more space at a facility level. For example, in one counselling room, there are two counsellors working, thus there is not privacy for the peer. We need to create safer and more private spaces.

Any other comments?

I want to say thank you to PATA for the platform that has been given to me; this has helped me to reach as many of my peers as possible as well as attend regional meetings where I can engage with other peer supporters and young people. Because of this opportunity, I am able to give input and share information in Uganda through questions posed by my peers, every Thursday in the Bukedde Paper, in a column called “Mbuza Omusawo”.

Did you enjoy hearing from Lubega? Comment your thoughts below.

This interview was compiled by Jacquelyne Alesi, PATA’s communication correspondent in Uganda. Jacquelyne will be assisting in the compilation of stories from the voices of the PATA network. As a global youth advocate, she has represented young people on the National Forum of People Living with HIV Networks in Uganda, sits on the board of the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+) and she is an Ambassador to The Coalition of Children affected by AIDS.

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