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IHVN Innovative Strategies Increase Retention of Adolescents in HIV Program

In Nigeria, more than 99,000 adolescents are living with HIV according UNAIDS. For improved access to, and retention in treatment, Institute of Human Virology Nigeria (IHVN) has implemented innovative measures in health facilities and communities.

According to IHVN Senior Technical Advisor, Prevention, Care and Treatment, Dr. Emilia Iwu, over 7,000 adolescents are now on treatment in the Federal Capital Territory with 97% of them retained in care.

“We support 32 adolescent friendly clinics in Nasarawa, Rivers and Katsina states, and Federal Capital Territory. These adolescent friendly health facilities have flexible timing for children and teens aged 10 -19 years old. Health providers also initiate HIV testing in health facilities and communities, those who test positive are immediately enrolled to receive HIV treatment including community based services,” she said.

She added that data of adolescents are captured for proper follow up. Peer support is done in partnership with the Association of Positive Youth in Nigeria (APYIN) and community-based organizations offering Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) services.

“APYIN is engaged to mentor the provision of psychosocial wellbeing of adolescents in the program through the peer educators. We have 40 adolescents peer champions and mentors. The peer educators are aware of their HIV status, have overcome stigma, and are confident to provide HIV services to their peers,” she stated.

Abel Danjuma  (not his real name)is one of the adolescents who has benefitted from the Institute’s partnership with APYIN. When he lost his mother in January 2020, he stopped taking his drugs because he did not know what they were for. According to Abel, “after about a year, I started falling ill, I lost interest in school and my Dad, a long-distant driver, was not always at home.  I opted to live with my grandma. I told my grand ma about how my mum would take me to the hospital and make me take drugs regularly. She did not give it much importance until I started having rashes all over my body and the usual herbal drugs she gave me would not relieve me”. Abel was admitted due to AIDS-related illnesses but his adherence to treatment did not improve when he got a bit better. “I was very angry and always agitated that my mum did not tell me my diagnosis. I took my drugs at will and missed clinic appointments until the adolescent peer educators from Dalhatu Araf Hospital visited my home and discussed with me.”

Abel felt relieved when he visited Dalhatu Araf Specialist Hospital in Lafia and saw many adolescents living with HIV participating in support group meetings. “The support group has remained a source of hope and inspiration. Now I can dream of having a better future knowing that it is all in my hands to manage the virus better,” he said.

According to Dr. Iwu, more than 85% of adolescents now attend clinics as against 25% in 2017 (when we started the adolescent peer support service).

“At the hospital, they are given health talks, pre-exposure prophylaxis, post-exposure prophylaxis, cervical cancer screening for adolescents less than 24 years, and prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV services for adolescent pregnant mothers. The clinic nurses, doctors, psychologists and counselors support and work hand-in-hand with the peer educators,” she said.