Suicide attempts in HIV positive teenagers alarming
JUST like any other normal 16 year old, Tracy Chitanda is at the peak of puberty. Gradually she is graduating in to womanhood.
At this stage her body releases hormones that stimulate her ovaries to start producing the female hormone estrogen.
These changes cause strong emotions, makes her hyper-active and restless – half the time she feels as if she can’t control her body.
Along with gaining curvier hips, her breasts have developed; she has also gained weight.
Tracy looks more attractive by the day and a lot of boys propose love to her.
Her dilemma is that, no matter how much she feels she needs love in her life, she thinks she doesn’t deserve to be in a relationship with anyone because of her HIV status.
Also, she has been ostracized by her peers at school and in her community because of her HIV status.
She almost took her life because of the frustrating situation she is in.
Tracy was born HIV positive in the year 1999 but looks healthy, thanks to the introduction of anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs.
“Just recently I almost took my life. I don’t lead a normal teen life. My HIV status has affected my studies.
“I do not date, not because I don’t want to, but because I cannot jeopardize someone`s else life. Besides, no sane guy can fall for an HIV positive girl,” she says.
She says she sometimes finds male friends but, the next day the boy starts ignoring her after learning about her condition.
“My mother is now my best friend I have lost almost all of my childhood friends because one way or the other they all stigmatize me,” she says.
Tracy`s case is not isolated. Hundreds if not thousands of HIV positive girls and boys have attempted to commit suicide for various reasons, among them stigma.
According to a report by UNICEF, 3, 2 million children around the world were living with HIV by the end of 2013 of which 91% of these resided in sub-Saharan Africa.
The 2014 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) states that 43, 2 (percent) of women and 43, 8 (percent of) men between 15-49 years said they understand the attitudes of self-pity of people living with HIV.
This means that stigmatization of people living with HIV is still very high in the country and this is triggering suicides among teenagers.
Muchanyara Makamuri, director of the Zimbabwe National Network of people living with HIV says the number of teenagers who have attempted to commit suicide because of their status is alarming.
“We are really having serious challenges with this group and stigma has also not made it easier.
“There are many challenges that they have to deal with in silence and this is the main cause of the attempted suicides,” she says.
Muchanyara says the country lacks supportive friendly services for young people who are also not getting friendly services at public health institutions.
“Because of lack of friendly services, we are losing them. These young people get a frown when they try and access services at clinics.
“The nurse doesn’t have to say much to turn this teenager away; it is just the look on her/his face that says it all.
“It is for such reasons that they shun health services and even stop taking medications. I blame nurses for some of the challenges young people are facing,” she argued.
15-year-old Tinashe Guri (not real name), who lives in streets in Harare`s cbd and is HIV positive, says it is better to die than to live positive.
He is under the care of a non governmental organisation called Destiny for Women and Youth Empowerment Trust which provides him with food and counseling.
“I do not have anyone to share my problems with and now I’m infected with the deadly disease; kusiri kufa ndekupi (it is better to just die),” he said
The organisation`s Director, Sharlotte Mutimaamba, says she encounters a lot of children in the same situation with Tinashe.
“We provide assistance to vulnerable children, especially those living in the streets. Most of them are infected with STIs and we refer them to PSI where they are given treatment and are also tested for HIV.
“I can roughly say in every 20 children we send to PSI, about 10 of them will be HIV positive,” she said
Mutimaamba adds that: “Now that they know their status, most of them start living recklessly; taking drugs, alcohol and having unprotected sex.
“Because of the stigmatisation, the infected children shun collecting ARV treatment,”
“We have a case of a young girl, Tendai Kaferefere, who is infected with HIV and is pregnant; she almost took her life as well.”
Meanwhile, a study by Linah Ruparanganda on the challenges faced by children with HIV: The case of children on the SOS Children`s Villages Community Outreach Programme recommends that:
“Collaborative efforts must be strengthened between relevant government ministries, and non-state actors to ensure increased availability of basic food and other services such as drugs, school fees and psychosocial support services so as to meet fully the needs of HIV infected children and promote their growth.
“Also, improved linkages and networking of all partners in HIV/AIDS service provision so as to ensure complimentary service provision thereby avoiding duplication of activities to the same target population.”
On the other hand, Mutimaamba says there is need for government to act more and talk less in terms of assisting vulnerable children. By Best Masinire
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