South Africa has the largest HIV epidemic in the world, with approximately 7.1 million people living with HIV. Although the epidemic is now considered relatively stable amongst adults, research shows that the prevalence of HIV amongst adolescents and young adults continues to rise, with over 720,000 adolescents living with HIV.
There is a pressing need to find solutions to providing the right kind of care for HIV adolescents, as currently many of them are not complying to their treatment which in turn is leading to poor physical and mental health outcomes.
Taking medication when you are an adolescent living with HIV can be difficult – the reasons are numerous and change over time. They include experiencing secondary effects, experiencing feelings of depression, anxiety or fears associated with stigma and discrimination. We believe that mental health support is crucial for improving the physical and mental health outcomes of HIV positive adolescents so that they can go on to live healthy and prosperous lives.
Khuluma is an initiative that The SHM Foundation has been running over the past five years in South Africa. The programme consists of running small peer-to-peer mobile phone support groups for adolescents living with HIV. It provides adolescents the space to communicate freely amongst themselves about any topic affecting them. Our findings from 99 participants who took part in our evaluation have shown a significant decrease in anxiety, depression and feelings of stigma. There has also been encouraging signs towards increased medical adherence.
In June 2018, we started working with the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation (DTHF) to explore further if our Khuluma model can be an effective tool for improving mental health, such as anxiety and depression, amongst adolescents living with HIV. Our support groups began running in October 2018 and will continue until the beginning of 2019. We are also working with Rocket.Chat (an open-source technology solution) to facilitate these support groups.
Main photo by Daniel Masetla