Homabay Teens Are Growing up Positive and Healthy

Corazon Aqunio, right, is a 12-year-old living with HIV in Homabay County, Kenya. Her mother, Esther Opinya, left, provides emotional support at home.

Kevin Ouma/EGPAF

Corazon Aquino, 12, is among the 47 adolescents who meet once every month, to play, learn, and refill their antiretroviral prescriptions at the Magina Health Center in Ndhiwa, Kenya, a sub-county of Homabay, near the eastern shore of Lake Victoria. 

“We love this support group because it helps us to meet with others from different places,” said Corazon, who was born with HIV. 

Support groups — like this one supported by the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) — provide consolation, courage, and information to help members cope with HIV and the stigma and discrimination associated with it.

“The main challenge comes when [adolescents living with HIV] think “I am the only one taking these drugs,” explained Judith Omwango, the facilitator of the Magina adolescent support group. Before the group was formed, the children collected their drugs whenever their parents or caregivers brought them to the center.

“Since they came at different times, they were not able to meet with other [youth] on treatment,” said Omwango. “When we began a support group [adherence to medication] began going up. They discovered that they are not alone.”

Globally, new HIV infections are increasing among those ages 15-24. Adolescents are vulnerable when it comes to spreading the virus because they are transitioning from childhood to adulthood — discovering their sexuality and learning how to be independent.

In addition, those living with HIV often face stigma and discrimination from peers, teachers, and the parents of classmates who fear that they could infect their children. This can lead to poor adherence to treatment and nondisclosure to sexual partners.

In Homabay County, nearly half of all children currently on antiretroviral therapy receive treatment through EGPAF programs. In addition, the health facilities supported by EGPAF provide adolescents like Corazon with support to help them stay on treatment and make responsible choices.