Imagine you are 15. It is your first year at a new school. You have to make new friends, meet all new teachers, struggle through your classes, and find a date for weekend parties. You want freedom and independence from your parents and caregivers. You want to be like everyone else. You worry about having cool clothes and fitting in. You want to have a boyfriend or girlfriend. You want your friends to like you. You worry about getting in to university and what your future will be like.
Now, imagine you are 15 and you are HIV-positive. You have the same thoughts and concerns that your peers have, but you also have to worry about your health. HIV only makes being an adolescent harder. You wonder if you will still fit in if you have HIV, so you hide this information from your friends. When you start dating someone, you wonder if your boyfriend or girlfriend will still like you if you tell him or her your status. The pressure of getting good grades and planning a successful future is heightened by having to miss school for medical appointments or not feeling well.
Through advances in antiretroviral therapy (ART), children born with HIV are growing up, living, and thriving. In addition, UNAIDS reports that youth between the ages of 15-24 account for almost half of all new HIV infections. These youth are in need of comprehensive, youth-specific education to empower them to make responsible and informed decisions regarding disclosure of their HIV status, sexual behavior, and their health.
So, how do we help youth living with HIV adjust to the growing pains of adolescence, while also maintaining their health? We talk to them. Just as with any teenager, it is important for youth living with HIV to learn how to be responsible young adults, realize how their actions affect those around them, and know who they can talk to when they need help. For teenagers who are HIV-positive, it is also important to help them manage their health. They need to know how to remain healthy by eating well and remembering to take their medicine, how and when to talk to peers and teachers about their status, and why drinking or taking drugs could be particularly harmful to them.
It is hard for youth living with HIV and those who care for them to know the answers to all of these questions. AIDSTAR-One in partnership with Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative (BIPAI) created Teen Talk: A Guide for Positive Living, a resource written for teens to use on their own, or for use in consultation with medical providers or caregivers. Covering issues such as adherence, nutrition, and safe sex, Teen Talk helps youth living with HIV think through their concerns and make healthy decisions. Teen Talk offers specific tools such as a calendar to help adolescents remember to take their medicine, a list of common medication side effects and possible solutions, and a question and answer guide about sex and sexual health.
With such a large population of youth living with HIV, it is increasingly important to help adolescents address their HIV status, manage their own medical care, and live a healthy life. Living with HIV will always be a challenge. However, with tools such as Teen Talk, youth living with HIV can thrive and remain healthy in their adolescent years, bringing us one step closer to reaching the global goal of an AIDS-free generation.
**This article was originally published on August 12, 2013 by USAID ImpactBlog.