Loyce Maturu knows only too well how devastating it can be for an adolescent to be told their HIV test has proven positive. After some very dark times, though, she decided to turn her tragic experience in to helping her fellow young Zimbabweans cope with what they are likely to first think of as a death sentence.

“I remember how depressed I was when I received my diagnosis,” she says. “I was just crying. I thought I was going to die because I’d had close family members who had died of AIDS related illnesses.”

“I’d love my mother to see the person I’ve grow up to become. By sharing my experience of dealing with my diagnosis without family support, I hope I can carry on helping.”

Loyce was just 12 years old at the time. Two years earlier her mother and brother passed away from AIDS-related illnesses. Her father had been killed in a car crash several years earlier. It was only the loving concern of an aunt that prompted her to be taken to a clinic to be tested after a prolongued bout of illness had forced her to stop attending school.

Shortly after receiving her devastating news, family develoments meant the aunt was no longer a part of her life. The family she was then spending more time around were not as kind or accepting of her HIV positive diagnosis. They were verbally abusive and, in desperation, Loyce attempted suicide to end her torment.

 

Using her own bad experience to do good

 

Rather than be bitter, though, Loyce, now 25, decided to put her tragic family experience to good use by working for the Zvandiri NGO as a mentor and youth ambassador. Loyce wanted to give the support to her peers that was so sorely missing in her own upbringing.

“Once my aunt was no longer in my life, I didn’t have anyone standing up for me, nobody would accept me because of my HIV status,” she says.

“Zimbabwe is very silent when it comes to HIV, people generally think it’s only a condition that affects adults. So young people don’t usually have anyone they can confide in. That’s why I wanted to turn my experience into something positive that could help HIV work on the ground.

“It’s wonderful to be able to help so many children and adsolescents with HIV. They want a peer to talk to, they want to share their personal experiences and they want to hear about mine too.”

 

photo credit: ©2016 Morgana Wingard/Global Fund Advocates Network

 

A very distinct age group

 

Loyce’s work as an advocate is allowing her to get over the message of how adolescents are different from other age groups and need to be treated with compassion in a country where adults often attach a stigma to HIV.

“As an advocate I do a lot of work in helping wider communities understand that adolescents are not children but they’re not adults either,” she says.

“It’s a distinct age group and being told you’re HIV positive at that age can lead to a lot of anxiety and depression. Young people would normally look to their parents for help and support but, as I found, adults are not always well educated.

“They often don’t think about getting adolescents checked, because they think it’s a condition for adults, and so many people get their diagnosis too late. When someone does get a positive diagnosis, they’re not always there to help and support them.”

Within the local community, then, Loyce sees reaching families as a priority to ensure young people are tested and given love and support if they receive an HIV positive result.

 

Loyce is taking her story worldwide

 

On a wider scale, Loyce is now involved in telling her story to global healthcare organisations to help them see how adolescents are currently under-served and need test and treatment regimes that are built around their distinct needs.

“Through the Zvandiri NGO I work with I’ve been give some amazing opportunities to talk to organistions who are keen to listen to how they can do more to support young people,” she says.

“I helped the World Health Organization work on its guidelines for ensuring adolescents are not left behind in AIDS care. I’ve shared platforms with truly inspirational people, such as Prince Harry and Elton John.”

While high profile speaking engagements are likely to continue, Loyce’s first calling will always be in helping adolescents in her native Zimbabwe.

“I want to continue giving back to my community,” she says.

“I’d love my mother to see the person I’ve grow up to become. By sharing my experience of dealing with my diagnosis without family support, I hope I can carry on helping.”

Indeed, Loyce is currently working with a researchers in Zimbabwe to measure the positive impact peer support can have on encouraging adscolescents to get tested for HIV and then, crucially, sticking to a treatment regime, if required.

 

photo credit: ©2016 Morgana Wingard/Global Fund Advocates Network