At age 7, Tanzanian Gilbert Maiko lost his mother to AIDS. Abandoned by his father, Gilbert went to live with his grandmother. When Gilbert’s health started to noticeably deteriorate, a neighbor advised his aunt to get him tested for HIV.
Gilbert was diagnosed HIV-positive, but his aunt didn’t share the results with him. After a few weeks of medication, his health improved.
“I told my grandmother I was cured,” Gilbert, now 14, said. “I argued I no longer needed the pills as I was doing so well, but she insisted I keep taking them.”
Sometimes Gilbert acted like he was taking the medicine, but threw it away once his aunt wasn’t looking. Because Gilbert started getting sick again, his aunt suspected he had stopped taking his medicine. One day, she hid and caught him tossing his pills.
It was at this point when he was 9 years old that Gilbert’s family decided to tell him his HIV status. Remembering his mother’s death, Gilbert was frightened. He did not fully understand HIV and continued taking his antiretroviral medication sporadically.
But Gilbert’s understanding of HIV and adherence to treatment changed dramatically when he visited a treatment clinic at Nyangao Hospital. There he discovered a club for children living with HIV.
The club was organized by Miriam Chilumba, a psychosocial support nurse affectionately known as Mama. She explained to parents, guardians, and children that the clubs allow children living with HIV to share experiences with each other. They also learn more about the virus and the importance of treatment.
“I look forward to the club meetings and never forget the day,” Gilbert said. “At the Ariel Club, I learned my role in maintaining my health. Since then, I have not missed my clinic appointments and I never skip my medicine.”
“Neither my aunt nor my grandmother has to remind me of my appointment,” he said. “I do all this by myself. I know when I skip taking medicine I will get sick, and my ability to fight other infections will be damaged.”
Ariel Clubs are named in memory of the daughter of Elizabeth Glaser, the cofounder of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatrics AIDS Foundation.