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Meet Kenya’s inspiring HIV peer educators

Clifford Akumu

14 June 2024

Hellen Adhiambo and Beryl Akinyi are peer educators and adolescent and young person champions for sexual and reproductive health and HIV treatment and prevention in Siaya County, Kenya. They share lessons learned from their work and success stories

Beryl Atieno at Akala village in Gem, Siaya County
Beryl Atieno at Akala village in Gem, Siaya County. Credit: Clifford Akumu

In Kenya, 41% of new HIV infections in adults occur among adolescents and young people aged 15-24 years. Peer education and other programmes targeting this age group are vital for achieving an end to the HIV epidemic and supporting young people to live healthy lives. We caught up with two peer educators to hear their views and experiences.

Beryl’s story

Beryl Atieno, 23, is a community adolescent treatment supporter based in Siaya County. Before joining the peer educator program in 2020, she volunteered at the health center for six months where she was trained on the prevention of teenage pregnancies, how to achieve viral suppression among pregnant teenagers living with HIV, and life skills.

“Part of my job involves following up with clients, especially teenage mothers who are living with HIV and are on treatment. I make it a point to check in with them to start clinic early and ensure that they’re sticking to their treatment and medication and understand its importance in preventing vertical transmission of HIV to the unborn child,” Beryl explains.

“As a community adolescent treatment supporter, I have had some incredibly rewarding moments while working in my community. One example that stands out is when two of the teenagers at the health centre … were virally suppressed thanks to the health talks and support group discussions that I carry out every month.”

“Working with the community hasn't been smooth, but what I have learnt is that engaging adolescents and youth, especially on issues of SRHR, HIV and gender-based violence requires a paradigm shift that includes “talking the young people’s language.”

“Most young people complain that they do not get good reception from healthcare workers especially when seeking AYSRH services, but sensitisation meetings that we conduct between the young people and healthcare workers have led to progress.”

Peter Njuguna of the National Organisation of Peer Educators says that peer education remains one of the tested and proven ways of delivering effective HIV messages. 

“Peer education has evolved from HIV/AIDS to include new areas such as non-communicable diseases and maternal health. We are building the capacity of organisations to do peer education,” explains Njuguna. He calls for the professionalisation of peer education programs in the country, sustainability in funding peer education activities, and the need to put more effort into funding prevention, especially around HIV/AIDS.

Hellen’s story

Hellen Adhiambo is 24 years old and is a peer educator and a sickle cell anemia ambassador attached to the Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB) working in the Siaya County, Kenya. She came to peer education via teaching.

“Before I joined the peer educator program in 2021, I was serving as an early childhood development teacher. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, all the learning institutions across Kenya closed for several months rendering teachers idle with little to do.”

A colleague introduced her to the peer education programme at CMMB.

“My first assignment was to organise a youth sensitisation outreach event that brought together adolescent and young women within the community that was supposed to be reached with SHRH and HIV services, and it registered a huge turnout,” she says.

“We realised that young people are actually engaging in sex and unfortunately are having unprotected sex hence the need to sensitise them on how to prevent themselves from contracting HIV and unwanted pregnancies at an early age.”  

Hellen shares how she gives talks to young people, visits the homes of peers and links them to available healthcare services including, HIV testing, sexual and gender-based violence services, and family planning. “Since I started this work, the young people now feel at ease to talk to me about their issues. I give them time and listen to their stories. In the health centres we are now seeing more and more adolescents coming for HIV testing and SRHR services,” she notes.

“As a peer educator, I engage young women and men on issues of... sex and HIV treatment and prevention where we delve into conversations around … teenage pregnancies, stigma from friends and family, gender-based violence, sexually transmitted infections … While on HIV and SRHR services young girls and boys get a chance to have conversations about ways through which HIV spreads and the prevalence of new HIV infections amongst young people, prevention methods, and healthy choices for better living. I also empower them to hold their community leaders accountable in providing SRHR services in the local health facilities, how to report, and whom to report to.”

Hellen and her colleagues are having an impact. According to a study conducted by the CMMB there was a remarkable 223% surge in access and uptake of HIV prevention services and a substantial 166% increase in access to HIV testing services as a result of the peer educator program.

“When we engaged the young peer educators we saw a big difference in attendance. We realised, we needed to strengthen the peer approach to reach these young people,” explains Wayne Otieno of the monitoring evaluation and learning unit at CMMB and the lead author of the study.

HIV in focus  

This news story has been published as part of our HIV in focus news network. This is a network of writers and journalists from our focus countries, dedicated to delivering news on HIV and sexual health. The network aims to amplify the voices of communities most affected by HIV and share the stories that matter to them.  

About the writer  

Clifford Akumu is a Kenyan freelance science, health and environment journalist with over ten years of experience writing for both local and international publications. His main areas of interest are health, especially pediatric and adolescent HIV, vaccines and climate change.

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