I could not stand idly by. I knew I could take action and be responsible for my life. I decided to become a spokesperson because I do not want any more children to be born with the HIV virus like me.
Like millions of children around the world, I was infected with the HIV virus at birth. I would take medication continuously and I would ask my father why I was taking medicine all the time.
It was only when I was at the youth centre in Moundou that they informed me I was infected with the virus. It was a bit difficult at times … It was difficult. Let’s leave it at that.
I’m not ashamed.
I could not stand the stigmatization and I decided to join the teenagers club of the Center Djenandoum Naasson. This is where I found some relief and hope. Before, I felt like that stigma would be attached to me, now it’s different. I’m not ashamed and I hope more and more will join the movement.
Since she was 13 years old, Mani Djelassem Virgille has been speaking publically about the challenges adolescents living with HIV, like herself, face. In January 2015, she addressed Heads of States and First Ladies at the 14th General Assembly of the Organization of First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS in Addis Ababa urging leaders to pay special attention to youth and adolescents in the prevention and response to HIV and AIDS.
In Africa, more adolescents die every year from AIDS-related illnesses than from any other cause.
Chad has made significant progress to provide free AIDS treatment and access to health care services for people living with HIV throughout the country. Between 2005 and 2013, the number of people receiving treatment has tripled, yet there is a need to reinforce planning of national HIV strategies and policies to target children and adolescents.
To address this gap, the Government of Chad, with support from UNICEF and other UNAIDS cosponsors, will be launching in November the National All Into #EndAdolescentAIDS campaign, a platform for action and collaboration to inspire a social movement to drive better results for adolescents through critical changes in programmes and policy. Mani will be one of the first young advocates behind the campaign.
Suzanne Beukes is a Communication Officer with UNICEF.This article is composed of excerpts from an interview UNICEF did with Mani Djelassem Virgille in January 2015. Mani is 16-years-old and lives in Moundou, Southern Chad.