Barriers to Youths Accessing HIV Medication in Zambia – Edwin Mbulo

Zambian youths living with HIV do not always adhere to their drug treatment as they are embarrassed to access services together with adults, says HIV expert Namuchana Mushabati.

Mushabati, programme officer for Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Information Dissemination Service (SAfAIDS), believes young people feel antiretrovirals in hospitals should be issued at the general pharmacy windows instead of creating separate accessing points.

In Zambia there is a general perception that anyone living with HIV has been having unprotected sexual intercourse.

Following a workshop for youths, health workers and parents drawn from various residential areas under the theme of 'Community Dialogue Agenda' in Zambia's tourist capital of Livingstone, Mushabati said: "A number of young people have complained about accessing ARV's together with adults. They fear that people will start asking questions as to how they got HIV, when she or he is young.

"There is perception that HIV can only be contracted by elderly people because it is said that only married people should have sex, so they think that people will start thinking how did they get HIV? That means one was naughty, sleeping around and that is how they got HIV."

Parents fail to disclose status

"Young people have suggested that antiretrovirals should be administered in the same way people access drugs from a pharmacist at a hospital, rather than having to go to an antiretroviral therapy section. This leads to stigmatization, not necessarily stigmatization from other people, but self-stigmatization because they will be like, what will people think of me when I get seen to be in a place where people access antiretrovirals," Mushabati said.

Another issue young people are raising is that parents are not telling children born with HIV of their status early enough, which can lead to hate and denial. Sometimes young people only learn of their status when their friends identify the medication they are taking.

"Most of them feel parents are being unfair by not disclosing to them their status or not explaining to them about the issue of being born HIV positive. Some of them actually tend to hate their parents because they feel they should have explained their illnesses to them so they know how to handle it," Mushabati said.

Reaching out to young people

SAFAIDS aims to address the root cause of HIV among young people as there are a number of ways which make young people vulnerable with regards to their sexual and reproductive health. It is implementing the 'Community Dialogue Agenda' in six Zambian towns; Lusaka, Chongwe, Kitwe, Kabwe, Mazabuka and Livingstone. If further funding is secured the programme will be rolled-out to rural areas, reaching many school youths aged 8-18.

Mushabati said: "We have seen that young people are being affected or infected with HIV because they are sexually active or they are sexually abused. So we are looking around those areas to see how to address the root causes to HIV among young people."

One of the issues SAfAIDS is trying to address is the lack of dialogue between young people and parents with regards to sex and HIV. Often young people are getting their information from the internet and from their peers and some of it is misinformation which leads to early pregnancies, HIV or other sexually transmitted infections.

Ronnie Jere, programme officer for Livingstone's Contact Youth Trust Association (CYTA), believes engaging young people in advocacy programmes early on is the way forward to reaching an HIV-free youth generation.

"The SAfAIDS programme is an ideal way of helping youths look at new dimensions of HIV and how to reduce new infections," said Jere.