By Kingsley Uganja, Guest Blogger
I am Kingsley Uganja. I am 22 years old and I am HIV positive.
I was diagnosed with HIV in December 2008 when I was 11 years old. The years before 2008 were filled with sickness. I could not understand what was going on until my aunt took me to the Partners in Hope clinic where they did an HIV test. When the test results came back positive, I felt like a dark cloud had fallen over me.
I thought about so many things including wondering how I got infected. I knew that HIV spread through having unprotected sex and so I wondered how I got infected. I did not know about other ways of contracting HIV.
Later on, I found out that I got it from my mother who died when I was just six years old. Three years after her death, my dad also died.
I started taking Anti-Retroviral (ARVs) immediately after the diagnosis because my CD4 count was very low. It was 11 and my viral load wad 29,788 copies which meant I was about to die. The ARVs saved my life.
In 2009, I transferred from the Partners in Hope clinic to the Baylor College of Medicine clinic. Apart from the usual clinical treatment, Baylor College of Medicine also provides psycho-social support through the Teen club which is supported by UNICEF. Through participation in the Teen Club, I learnt that HIV treatment is not just about taking ARVs every day. It is also about having a healthy mind.
Through the Teen club I learnt techniques that improved my adherence to treatment and had the opportunity to share my treatment life with other youths and motivate them to adhere to treatment.
In 2014, I graduated from Teen club to the Transition Training Program for young adults living with HIV. In this program I acquired HIV self-care skills and general life skills.
HIV is not a limiting factor in my life. I passed my Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) with good grades. Then I went on to study community development.
Currently I am working for Baylor College of Medicine as an Adolescent Peer Supporter. My role involves participating in national and international activities focused on the fight against HIV.
Through this work, I have attended International Aids Conferences in South Africa and Tanzania.
All this exposure has increased my passion to support adolescents who are living with HIV. As a result I started a project called “Peer to Zero” in December 2016. The program aims to increase adolescent’s adherence to treatment.
So far the program is impacting the youth positively. A survey that I conducted among the youth that I work with showed that 97 percent of adolescents are able to adhere to treatment and 87 percent are able to know and memorize names of their ARVs. Memorizing the name of the medications helps them to avoid taking the wrong medications and improves adherence to treatment. Adherence to treatment leads to viral load suppression, meaning there is a minimal amount of virus in the body.
With support from UNICEF, I will be presenting these finding at the International Conference on STIs and HIV treatment in Africa (ICASA) this December in Ivory Coast.
World AIDS Day means a lot to me. It is a reminder that people are working hard to end HIV and providing care to those who are already infected. It is also a day to reflect on the stigma and discrimination that people living with HIV face. It is also a time to reflect on how best we can improve the quality of HIV service delivery to those living in rural areas and increase psycho-social support, especially for those that have been recently diagnosed.