My name is Faith and I live in the Masaka district of Uganda. I am 17 years old. I’m a member of the Ariel Children’s Club, a support group for children affected by HIV/AIDS that is sponsored by the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
My parents died while I was very young and I don’t remember them very well. I was raised by my maternal aunt and her husband, whom I take as my parents.
Before I knew about my HIV status, I was very sickly with skin rashes, fevers, cough, and diarrhea. In 2000, when I was nine years old, I was tested and learned I was HIV-positive. I was admitted to the hospital multiple times for severe pneumonia. I also had tuberculosis and meningitis. Blood tests showed that my CD4 count, which should be at least 500 for a healthy person, was only 39. My low CD4 count indicated that I was very sick due to HIV.
In 2001, I started taking medication to treat my HIV. It was hard to get used to the idea of taking pills daily, but I regained my health and I was able to go back to school.
Everything was okay until I went to a boarding school two years later. There was a lot of stigma and discrimination in the school — the matron and many of the children made life hard for me. I could not adhere to my drug regimen because I feared being seen while taking the pills. Sometimes I would quickly swallow my medicine while I was in the bathroom, so no one would see. I eventually fell sick because I had developed treatment failure from not taking my medicines consistently, and I had to leave boarding school.
Last year I switched to new medicines that are easier to take, and I have improved greatly. In July of this year, my CD4 count reached 500. My birthday was July 22 and this was the greatest present I’ve ever received.
The Ariel Club has helped me to cope with the many challenges I face. The other children and I learn how to deal with stigma and discrimination at home, at school, and in the community. We also have fun — we dance, sing, play, and laugh. I help other children to cope with their HIV status and stigma, and I use my personal experience to teach them how important it is to adhere to their medications.
The Ariel Club, as well as the Ariel Children’s Camp that I attended last year, have helped me to know that I am not alone. There are other children suffering and we are all one family. We are working together to fight this disease, because every child deserves a lifetime.