The Scarlet Letters: HIV and Adolescent Life in Africa

The Atlantic has just published my piece about a generation of Africans that is growing up with HIV and the challenges posed in an era where the virus is no longer a death-sentence, but a chronic, contagious disease.

The last time I was in Kampala, I met a brother and sister who had contracted HIV from their mother. The boy, whom I will call Peter (I’ve also changed the names of his friends and family), was just two days shy of his 16th birthday, and betrayed no visible signs of sickness. When I was introduced to him, in the Uganda offices of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, not far from the city center, he was wearing his school uniform, a dark- green sweater over a white collared shirt. He looked a little bookish, with a round face, thin wire-rimmed glasses, and hair cropped tight to his skull.

I sat with Peter at the corner of a long conference table, and he quietly told me his case history. He’d been sick often as a child, he said, fighting off fevers, diarrhea, painful blisters, and hacking coughs. But it wasn’t until he was 10 that he learned that he was infected with HIV. His mother, then expecting her sixth child, had tested positive during a prenatal HIV test and brought her children in to be examined. In Uganda, patients qualify for anti retroviral treatment when their CD4 count, a rough measure of the health of the immune system, falls below 250. Peter’s clocked in at 54. He was immediately started on medication, a cocktail of pills taken twice a day.

With treatment, he remembers, his health improved quickly and dramatically. But then, at age 13, the markers of his illness returned: diarrhea, fevers, vomiting. While we spoke, he pulled up the sleeves of his sweater to show me where the rashes had come back. “These are scars from them,” he said. “They come like sores, too many sores. When you scratch it, there comes a wound.”

Read the rest here.

This entry was posted in The Atlantic and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.