July 2018

A Psychosocial Counselor Prepares Children to Live Fully

Country:

Cameroon

Topics:

Adolescent Care & Treatment

Angele Mboe was 19 when she discovered that she is living with HIV. In the mid-1990s, there was little clinical or psychological support for an HIV-positive woman living in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon.

I experienced a lot of trauma. I was so shocked that I wondered if I could continue to breathe. I felt utterly alone. Angele

But eventually HIV care and treatment did arrive, and Angele was able to gain some hope that she would not die young. In 2000, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) supported the first five prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) health facilities in Cameroon in partnership with the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Services (CBCHS). The Government of Cameroon expanded HIV care and treatment services across the country through the Ministry of Public Health’s  National AIDS Control Committee, with the support of local and international partners.

Today Angele is the healthy mother of three HIV-free children, thanks to her adherence to her antiretroviral treatment and to PMTCT protocols. She works as an HIV psychosocial agent at the Chantal Biya Foundation Mother and Child Center in Yaoundé, which is supported by EGPAF.

I was diagnosed when there was no treatment. After my life was saved by HIV medication, I decided to take a leap and help others know that an HIV diagnosis is not the end of life. Angele

“As a team, we provide psychosocial support and advice to HIV-positive children and adolescents,” says Angele. “We help them accept their HIV status and be free of stigma. We help them understand that they are members of society, just like any other human being.”

The children also meet their peers in a support group, where they play and learn about health—including lessons on HIV. Eventually, alongside parents, counselors help disclose to the children their HIV status, and they provide support as the children process the information. As the children become adolescents, the counselors expand their support to include advice about sex and reproductive health, and they address anxiety and fears that the young people may have about entering adulthood.

“I have a really good relationship with the psychosocial support counselors, says Michel, a confident adolescent who has come to pick up his medication. “I come here on a monthly basis, and they are the first people I see. They ask me how I am feeling. Have there been side effects to the drugs I am taking? How is my life back home? They ask if I have any problems with my studies. If there are problems they try to help me sort them out and give me advice. If I have a problem that requires a doctor, they refer me.”

Michel has been living with HIV since he was an infant. His mother is HIV-positive, but she did not enroll in PMCTC when she was pregnant with him, and she transmitted HIV to him. When Michel was 12 years old his parents disclosed his HIV status to him.

“I was depressed to learn that I am HIV-positive,” says Michel. “But I had been prepared for the news because I had already been attending a psychosocial support group. They kept talking about HIV and AIDS in the support group, so when I was told that I have HIV, I already had a lot of awareness.

“Living with HIV is hard. I look at myself, and I look at the others around me—and I wonder what will happen if I tell someone that I am HIV-positive. Will they freeze me out? And it is hard to take drugs, especially when you are young. You get up in the morning, and you take drugs. In the middle of the day at school, you take drugs. When you go to bed, you take drugs. When is this going to stop?”

“The counselors help me face these difficulties,” continues Michel. “When I decide to disclose my status to friends and neighbors, and I am afraid of the reaction, they advise me about how to take precautions and how to feel confident.

“They have been trained to provide a listening ear to people who are traumatized, who think that the world is going to be at an end because they have the virus. They lift me up, make them feel like I can live like anyone else, says Michel.

“If it were not for the psychosocial support that I received, I would be a madman in the streets,” he says.

Now Michel looks forward to adulthood. “I am in love,” he says. “I have a very nice girlfriend, and the counselors have told me that I can have a family if I want.”

“I really like working with my patients,” says Angele. “I was infected with HIV, but all of my own babies were free of HIV. I want to see the children that I work with grow up like me and have HIV-free children of their own.”

 

EGPAF supports HIV psychosocial counselors at the Chantal Biya Foundation Mother and Child Center through funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).