IMB runs support groups for adolescents and children either infected or affected by HIV.

Four years ago, Jean de Dieu's family was confused and distraught. The 14-year-old from rural Rwanda had tested positive for HIV, while the rest of his immediate family had all tested negative. While questions swirled around his home, the teenager just felt alone and depressed.

Jean de Dieu’s father had been worried about his son for some time—he seemed to fall ill so often. So when a mobile clinic for voluntary counseling and testing for HIV came to a nearby school, the father quickly consented to having the boy tested. The clinic, operated by Partners In Health’s Rwandan sister organization Inshuti Mu Buzima (IMB), delivered the unfortunate news. And the IMB social work team sat down to counsel both father and son about the results. They also quickly scheduled a home visit to assess the family's situation and to provide additional counseling and resources. 

Jean de Dieu’s father had previously been tested, and knew he was HIV negative. Thankfully, the IMB team found the rest of the family—Jean de Dieu's mother and sibling—had also tested negative. But the family was still perplexed and scared—how had the boy become infected?

For Jean de Dieu, the initial confusion soon gave way to depression. A stellar student, he contemplated abandoning his studies and giving in to the disease.

To add to the family’s woes, Jean de Dieu’s mother, while HIV negative, was very ill—she hadn’t left her house in over a year. IMB clinicians found that she was suffering from advanced cervical cancer, and did not have long to live. She passed away soon afterward.

Griefstricken and unable to cope with his wife's death and what he felt was his son's impending death, the father abandoned his family.

IMB’s social work team had their work cut out for them. However, they’ve had years of experience helping many other children living with HIV, just like Jean de Dieu. They quickly arranged for continual counseling for the entire family, highlighting other possible causes of HIV infection. And while finding out how he had gotten infected may remain a mystery, helping the teen regain his health was certainly attainable. IMB ensured that he was put on an ART regimen, and assigned an accompagnateur to help make sure he has the support he needs to adhere to it. They also convinced Jean de Dieu to join a weekly counseling group for HIV-positive children.

 
 

At a support group for children and adolescents infected or affected by HIV, participants discuss their fears, experiences, and aspirations.

 
 

Participants also play games and form friendships with others who understand exactly what they are going through.

At the group meetings, the boy discovered that the other children seemed to be healthy, happy, and living full, ordinary lives. Moreover, the other kids understood what he was going through. There was no judgment or stigma—only support. “I cannot miss the counseling sessions,” he asserts. “I am very happy when I am with them, because we all understand each other.”

The IMB team knew that another aspect of Jean de Dieu’s treatment was to make sure that he continued his studies. They supplied school fees and supplies, as he no longer had his father to support him. Jean de Dieu didn’t let the IMB team down—he graduated from primary school as the top student in his class, and enrolled in secondary school. 

Meanwhile, IMB continued to try counseling his father. And when he saw how Jean de Dieu had begun to flourish, he returned to his family and began attending the counseling group meetings with his son.

Now 18 years old, Jean de Dieu has a completely different outlook on HIV than those dark days when he was first diagnosed. “I am HIV positive and I'm still alive, because there are drugs for what I'm suffering with,” he says.  “I now have a future to look to,” he adds, crediting his counseling group. “I want to be a doctor in order to assist other children with chronic diseases."

Learn more about PIH's work to provide psychosocial support to patients affected and infected by HIV

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