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From contemplating suicide to becoming a peer educator!

From contemplating suicide to becoming a peer educator!

“The question as to how I contracted HIV when I had never had sex troubled me a lot, bearing in mind that my mother does not have the virus,” says Joseph Ramadhani, who was diagnosed with HIV when he was 15 years old.

Joseph, who is now 22, and a resident of Ndala in Shinyanga Municipality, he says this was a puzzle to the whole family. Where did Joseph get the virus? While he needed support from the family to come to terms with the fact that he was HIV-positive, his siblings stigmatized fearing that he would infect them. This led to Joseph becoming stressed, aggressive and irritable.  He also lost self-esteem and began to isolate himself.

“I didn’t like to be near anybody, even my own mother. I preferred to eat alone, while others ate together during meal times. I felt that I wasn’t loved.  I saw no point in continuing to live, and I thought that it would be better if I killed myself,” he says.

Joseph abandoned these thoughts after joining a club for children living with HIV at Kambarage Health Center and participating in psychosocial support forums, including bonanzas. “Whenever I was at the club, I met my fellow children, and saw that I wasn’t alone, but that there were many of us. We were taught how to live with HIV positively. We played, ate and drank together. I began to see my true value, and thoughts of killing myself disappeared.” He says in 2014 he was selected to attend a children and adolescent camp in Moshi.

“In Moshi I met many fellow children living with HIV. We narrated our plights, comforted one another and suggested ways of dealing with our situations,” says Joseph.

“In view of what I had gone through and what I learned at these forums, I decided to help children and my fellow youth avoid what had befallen me. I have joined an Education, Upbringing and Health Group, whereby I encourage young people to take HIV tests and also teach them various issues pertaining to HIV/AIDS.”

Joseph’s mother, Ms. Suzana Mihambo, is thankful that her son has accepted his condition. “It was really tough at first. There were times when he refused to take ARVs, and his health deteriorated sharply, but he now takes his medication as advised and hopes to live a long and productive life. Apart from earning a living as a salon worker, my son is also a peer educator,” says Suzana with a smile on her face.

Joseph was diagnosed with HIV in 2009 when he was taken to the regional hospital after failing to recover from chronic malaria and joint pains despite repeatedly visiting dispensaries and traditional healers for treatment.

 Joseph and her mother were tested for HIV, and the boy was found to have the virus, while his mother was found to be HIV-negative, something that raised the question as to how he was infected. However, it was later recalled that when Joseph was two years old, he developed an acute fever and had to undergo a blood transfusion.  The blood was donated by his uncle, who was later diagnosed with HIV.

“I have no hard feelings about my uncle donating for me infected blood because he did so to save my life.  I believe that he was then not aware that he had HIV,” says Joseph.

Ariel Glaser Pediatric AIDs Healthcare Initiative (AGPAHI) supports children and adolescents living with HIV with psychosocial support camps by the support of US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDs Relief (PEPFAR) through Centre for Disease Control (CDC) by in collaboration with the Ministry of health, Gender, Elderly and Children in Mwanza, Simiyu, Mara and Shinyanga.