Psychosocial support crucial for young PLWHA

By Regis Nhumba

Joylene Mhizha (15) who lives in Trenance, one of Bulawayo Metropolitan province’s old suburbs says she almost committed suicide due to lack of Psychosocial Support when her parents separated. She says her situation is compounded by the fact that she was born with the Human Immuno Deficiency Virus (HIV), a health condition that still attracts stigma and discrimination in Zimbabwe.

“I was born with HIV. My life has never been easy because I am on medication and physically I am not healthy. I have never managed to have any close friends because girls of my age fear that I may infect them with the virus. Even at school, I was lonely most of the time,” says Joylene.

Joylene says her situation was compounded by the fact that her parents were always squabbling openly.

“After several years of fighting, my parents separated. I knew that this was a possibility for a long time, but when it happened, I was devastated. My mother took me to stay with my grandmother while she was looking for a job,” says Joylene.

The living conditions at her grandmother’s place were not good and Joylene says no one took the responsibility for paying her school fees.

“We I realised that there was no one interested in paying my school fees, I decided to drop out of school. I did not want to pester my grandmother because she is old and she did not have that kind of money to send me to school,” says Joylene.

Joylene says the situation was too bad for her and she just stopped taking her medication for HIV. She adds that on several occasions, the thought of committing suicide because she felt there was no way out of her predicament.

Fortunately, Joylene says her grandmother discussed the issue with her neighbour who realised that the situation needed emergency intervention. She says her grandmother was referred to a local non-governmental organisation that supports people living with HIV.

“One of the peer educators from the Red Cross Society came to our place and we had a fruitful discussion. She talked to me about the need to be always positive. She encouraged me to think about going back to school and focus on my goals,” says Joylene.

After the initial interactions, Joylene says she decided to join one of the support groups where girls of her age participated in activities meant to build solidarity and support.

“The support groups helped me to have a better understanding of my condition. I realised that I was not alone on this issue and that what was important was for me to take care of myself. I also shared my story and listened to other girls who had worse experiences than me,” says Joylene.

Nokulunga Ncube (24), a Peer Educator in Bulawayo says counselling is important for young women and girls because it alleviates pain and opens up the way forward for affected individuals.

“Counselling by peer educators is particularly important because it deals with the psychological stress such as fear of rejection, social stigma and fear of the virus especially as peer counselling eliminates preachy attitude that most older counsellors have towards younger people,” says Nukulunga.

Nokulunga says failure to get counselling support may result in suicide. She adds that when someone finds out that they have the virus, they tend to isolate themselves, a situation that is not advisable.

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