COVID-19 IMPACT: An Interview with Miriam, an Adolescent Mother Affected by HIV
COVID-19 is already having catastrophic and lasting consequences for millions of children, adolescents and caregivers affected by HIV/AIDS. Lock downs have curtailed livelihoods and supports that they rely upon to survive and thrive. School shut down directly affects children globally. The socio-economic vulnerabilities, development challenges compounded by stigma associated with HIV and AIDS, leave them especially vulnerable to COVID-19 and its impacts.
The impacts of the pandemic hit those who are already marginalised hardest. In particular, adolescent mothers affected by HIV and their children are especially vulnerable. There are an estimated 11.4 million adolescent mothers in Sub-Saharan Africa.[i] It has been projected that 62 million adolescent girls (aged 15–19 years) will give birth during 2016–2020.[ii] They and their children are at far greater risk of HIV infection as well as a range of inter-relating physical, social and economic challenges including poverty, early childhood development delays, mental health problems, violence, child marriage, sexual abuse and a lack of education.[iii]
As the pandemic continues to take its toll, the Coalition is reaching out to our Ambassadors to better understand its effects on a personal level. Below is what 18-year-old Miriam, a young mother in Uganda, told us:
What is life like for and your son right now?
Life is just full of isolation for me and my son. In the house, we can be free from COVID-19. It’s not too bad yet in my country, but prevention is better than if we got sick and had to wait for a cure.
We try to stock enough food to last at least for a week, but this not always possible. There are times when the whole family is financially unstable and we have to not eat or just have tea for a day.
I feel bad when we have no meals and my son can’t eat. I know this is not healthy. As a mother, I struggle a lot in order to get at least one meal for him. I want to do everything I can so that he has a better life.
But life still continues, day by day. We believe that God always makes a way, even when it seems there is none.
How are you feeling?
I feel good because my family does not have any COVID-19 infection. But, at the same time, I feel bad because life is not easy. It’s full of ups and downs. My dad, who would normally help, is very sick bed ridden. So, I always try help him to take care of himself. In addition to my dad and son, I have to care for two siblings who are at home.
I feel so stressed because my family is all counting on me since I am like the elder. I rarely talk to other family relatives and I can’t ask neighbors for help.
But you despite your own challenges, you are still finding ways to give back.
I started working with Red Cross as a volunteer. We go to different villages around the country training and sensitizing people in the village on COVID-19 and how they can prevent it. Most have learned a lot and are able to demonstrate what we taught them.
What are you most worried about right now?
I am mostly worried about my dad’s life, because it is really unpleasant right now. I also worry about my son’s life. Once a child misses a meal, it can hinder his growth. I feel that I have a lot of responsibility at this early stage of life. It’s like I am carrying a big burden that I cannot lift off of myself.
I feel so sad for my fellow young mothers. There are some in my community that are in total starvation. They stay alone with their children, without their husbands. They end up like paupers. I wish that I could be by their side and help. But I don’t even have enough for my own family.
Are you able to access what you need during the pandemic?
Food is not easily accessed. But we are just waiting for the government food rations that are being supplied; they have not yet reached my area. In the meantime, getting food is really hard. I am near the health center, so, luckily, I am able to access medication. But there are other people who live further than the health center and it’s hard for them to access medication. Organizations like UNYPA have provided bicycles to some volunteers so that they can deliver medicine to people.
What would you say to other young, HIV-affected mothers during this time?
My advice is that we should quarantine ourselves so that we don’t catch the virus. We need to take care of ourselves to that we can live the best life possible in the future. No condition is permanent. We know all this will end. For now, we must keep our heads up.
[i] UNAIDS JUNP on H. At a Glance – HIV among Women and Girls in Sub-Saharan Africa. 2019.
[ii] World Population Prospects 2019, Online Edition. New York: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division; 2019.