When your child is infected with HIV, it's hard to hold onto
hope for the future.
In a place like Kenya, most people still see HIV as a death
sentence. Despite our medicines, despite the care system we have
built over the past 10 years, despite all that we have learned
about fighting back this virus into something that you can live
with, people will still tell you that they think those with HIV are
just going to die.
I spend a lot of time in clinic with families trying to impart
hope. I try to explain that their babies can live. I explain that
the reason it is so important to take HIV medicines every day is
because the medicines will allow you to grow from a child into an
"You can have hope for this child," I say. But,
sometimes, our children are so very sick that even I struggle to
One of the great highlights of my time here in Kenya was the
chance to meet with some of my oldest patients - children who have
been infected with HIV since birth who have now grown into young
adults. 18-years-old, 20-years-old, 22-years-old - every birthday
is a cause for celebration. Many of these children started
receiving HIV treatment in our clinics when we first opened the
doors for kids in 2003. I feel like a very proud mama when I see
I gathered a bunch of these "old" patients so that we could
learn from them about how best to help more of our children to grow
into adulthood. We wanted to learn from them how to build in more
I am trying to figure out how to put into place better support
services for our HIV-infected children who are entering
adolescence. I think every clinic should have a peer support group
for their adolescents, but only our main referral clinic has
managed to have one. Even worse, all of our program funding for
psychosocial support was cut, so we have no money to support these
types of programs.
So, I am figuring out how to do it on our own, and I have a team
of students and interns working with me over the summer who are
developing curricula and resources for peer support groups that all
of the AMPATH clinics could put into place for their youth. I think
I can run adolescent support groups for a clinic for a year for
about $1000. Pretty cost-effective for offering hope!
We turned to our experts to teach us how to do this best --
these young adults who have made it through. How I love hearing
their stories! How I love seeing them thrive! The kids talk about
their own struggles through accepting their HIV diagnosis and
taking responsibility for their treatment. They have walked through
the loss of parents, the loss of siblings, the loss of friends.
They have struggled against stigma and discrimination and fear.
And over and over again, they talked about how much the support
group helped them. Their peers became their family.
"The group saved me," said one beautiful girl, over and
over. "Without them, I had no hope. I even thought of suicide.
Being with the others gave me a new family. They gave me a hope for
These kids give me hope too. Here's to more support groups - and
more and more of our kids entering adulthood.
- My American student team, our patient
experts, and the staff from our pediatric referral clinic.
- We got a little silly! The other adult in
the center is Lucy, the amazing nurse who spearheads our adolescent
activities (and who is really responsible for these saved
- Yep. They wanted a selfie in my car.