Agnes, a young girl living in Ntcheu, Malawi, is unaware that she is HIV positive. Her father died of HIV/AIDS when she was a young child and her mother began to fall ill from the disease when she was only 10 years old. Because of the stigma and discrimination in Africa facing HIV/AIDS patients, Agnes and her mother never spoke of their condition. In fact, her mother had told her from an early age the medicine Agnes took was for a persistent cough. It wasn’t until her mother passed away that her aunt explained what her parents had died from and that Agnes, too, was HIV positive.
Agnes stopped taking her drugs a few months following her mother’s death because she had no way to get to the clinic to receive her medicine. These medications are not readily available in Africa and travel is difficult. As time went on, Agnes’ health began to fail. Her aunt would come to take care of her at times when she was ill. Eventually she brought Agnes to the Ganya Health Center where she received the life saving drugs she desperately needed. Slowly, her health began to improve.
At the health center Agnes was introduced to the Teen Club and Sr. Sonia Quintino. The Teen Club is a psycho-social support group for youth living with and affected by HIV/AIDS across Malawi and run by the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. In the Teen Club sessions, Agnes learned about adherence, disclosure, stigma and discrimination facing those infected with HIV/AIDS in Malawi and how to deal with these challenges. Sr. Sonia organized this particular chapter and manages it with the skills she learned from ASEC’s Sisters Leadership Development Initiative program. Through the SLDI program, Sr. Sonia learned to make presentations to the support group on helpful topics such as stress management.
>Agnes, now 18, has accepted her diagnosis, is back on her medication and her health has improved dramatically. Now, she volunteers with Sr. Sonia at the Ganya Health Center to help other teenagers living with this diagnosis see that there is life and hope for them.
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In total, 4.5% of young women in Malawi are living with HIV, compared to 2.2% of men of the same age. Of those young Malawians living with HIV, less than half are aware of their status. The good news? Because of people like Sr. Sonia, Malawi is on track to achieve the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets by 2020, which include 90% of people with HIV knowing their status, 90% of these accessing antiretrovirals (ARVs) and 90% of those on treatment being virally suppressed.