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First-hand: promoting treatment adherence for young people

Raeesah Yusuf as told to Tinashe Madamombe

19 April 2024

Raeesah Yusuf, is a dedicated community care worker, facilitator, HIV testing counselor and Choma champion. She shares her experiences working with young people and children living with HIV

After my mom passed away in 2016, I found comfort in working with vulnerable and orphaned children. It all started when I joined an organisation in Kliptown that supported children affected by HIV. That experience ignited my passion for advocating for youth. 

Now, I'm a Choma champion, working at the Choma café. The café serves as a safe space where young people can come to chat about sex, HIV, health, and more. They can grab a copy of the Choma magazine and connect with a Choma champion online. Most young people prefer this digital platform so as to avoid judgment and they tend to open up more freely. 

My job is to assist them with their questions and keep track of the most common ones. This information helps us tailor our mental health sessions to their needs. We can also fine-tune the magazine's content to ensure it is clear and addresses all their concerns. 

Young people leave with clarity and confidence  

In my work, I have the privilege of engaging with young people from different backgrounds and age groups. Through these interactions, I gain insight into how they navigate life with HIV, cope with relationships, and manage their daily routines amidst societal expectations. What I value most about my job is not just the positive impact I can make, but also how much it has shaped my own life. 

Often, young people are unfairly judged. Through my work, I have learnt the importance of taking the time to truly understand young people, setting aside fixed ideas, and promoting open communication. As a Choma champion, I have managed to improve my ability to connect with young people, establishing trust and creating a safe space for them to share their challenges and concerns. 

Despite my passion for this work, it comes with challenges. One of the most frightening aspects is encountering a new group of young people for the first time. Each group brings its own unique dynamics, personalities, and attitudes. Adjusting to these dynamics is challenging to both me and the young people themselves. Additionally, helping young individuals unlearn harmful beliefs and myths they have internalised can be particularly challenging. Many face stigma and misinformation regarding HIV, which can deeply affect how they see themselves and others. However, by providing accurate information, I have witnessed first-hand the power of dispelling these misconceptions. It is incredibly rewarding to see young people leave with clarity and confidence, equipped to separate facts from myths in their own lives. 

Promoting treatment adherence 

When I am out in the community interacting with young people living with HIV, I find it more than important to emphasise treatment adherence. I make sure I give enough clear information to the young people we work with, all to help stop HIV from spreading. One thing that works well for us is going with young people to their clinic appointments and helping them get their treatment. For younger kids, we visit them at home to make sure they take their medicine. If we can't visit every day, we call the caregiver or guardian each morning to remind them to give the child their medicine. 

During one of our community outreaches, we met a girl. She was struggling to keep up with her treatment because she didn't have much support. We stepped in to motivate her, accompanying her to the clinic, and explaining why taking her medicine regularly is crucial. Thanks to the supportive environment we've created for young people, she still feels comfortable to come back and share her journey with us. To make it easier for her, we suggested she carry a small container with her medication, so she can take it wherever she goes, even when she's out with friends. 

We have seen some amazing changes in her. Her viral load has improved, she's gained back the weight she lost, and her skin is clearing up after a reaction. It's incredible to witness the positive impact our support has had on her life. 

The impact of Be in the KNOW 

The Be in the KNOW website is perfect, and I am definitely going to be introducing it in my next sessions with the children I work with. As I continued reading on the various content about lifestyle, sexual health and relationships I have noticed that it is empowering me as well. It has taught me more on topics I did not know about myself. I think the website needs to be advertised more so that the content reaches more young people.   

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