PHENOMENAL Positive Youths National Coordinator Graham Mbewe has encouraged persons living with HIV to get vaccinated against COVID-19, saying it is safer for them to do so since their immune system is already compromised.

And Mbewe says at the peak of the pandemic, the association introduced a project called Chilimba to ensure continued adherence to HIV treatment because some members were too scared to visit health facilities themselves.

Phenomenal Positive Youths is a group of HIV positive and negative youths who have come together to fight stigma and discrimination associated with being HIV positive by promoting positive living, adherence and self-esteem among young people living with HIV.

In an interview, Thursday, Mbewe insisted that the covid vaccine was safe for everyone, including people living with HIV.

“I got vaccinated, I am fully vaccinated. Each treatment we react differently with our bodies, I had some side effects where I could feel some fever or you feel pain in your body but eventually, it was manageable and it never got to an extent where I was even admitted in the hospital. But I have in my locality people that I am found with and are living with HIV who got vaccinated, some didn’t experience any side effects. The message I can give to people out there, especially people living with HIV, they shouldn’t be scared or be misinformed because there have been these misconceptions to say ‘since you are already having underlying health condition, when you get vaccinated then you get Covid’,” Mbewe said.

“The Covid vaccine is safe for people living with HIV. You can get vaccinated and you will not have any problem because you getting vaccinated, you are more safer than you not being vaccinated. We see that either people living with HIV or not living with HIV, anyone can get exposed to Covid-19. I would encourage my friends out there, my fellow youths, women, men living with HIV, don’t be deceived, go and get vaccinated. Get your vaccine, it’s safe and it protects you and also protects your family. You having an underlying health condition [for] which you are already on treatment, it is safer for you to get vaccinated because the immune system is already compromised. Imagine you get exposed to COVID-19 again, how are you going to manage yourself? So the most important thing is go and get your vaccine. Roll up your sleeve, it is safe and it doesn’t have any bad side effects that can kill someone or that can infect someone with COVID-19.”

And Mbewe explained that the Chilimba project was aimed at helping every person living with HIV needing treatment access it at the peak of the pandemic.

“Most of the facilities at health facilities were interrupted due to COVID-19. Many people have this challenge of adherence to getting treatment on time. But due to Covid, they couldn’t have those services like having time to interact, giving them health talks because the time they were spending at the facility was little. No wonder why we launched the Chilimba Project so that we follow up. Since we are in the same shoe, we know they have the challenges that we are facing. Through differentiated health services, we dealt with them having the same services that they were having in the health facilities. But we would have them through either phone calls or messages or through WhatsApp,” he said.

“We could call them, checking up on the challenges they are facing because some of them were out of employment. So you will find that for them to go and get treatment from the health facility, it was a big challenge because someone couldn’t afford to have transport. So what we used to do was ‘okay, even though you are having this challenge we have this project, the time you will go to the facility we don’t want you to miss the treatment, I can give you since I have more bottles which I got from the facility. You can get it then later on when you find transport or when you have money, you can go and get your medicine then you can give me back my treatment’. Many people on treatment have the same drugs.”

Mbewe said many people living with HIV feared visiting health facilities when COVID-19 was at its peak because they thought they could contract the virus there.

“The only fear is them having access to health facilities. Because health facilities, those were areas where people thought if I go to the health facility maybe I will get COVID-19 because this is where many people are going to get tested for Covid. Many got scared to say ‘okay, in case maybe I go to the health facility this is where I can get COVID-19’, not because I am having this condition but just them having access to go and [get] their treatment. That was the main reason we also launched the Chilimba project to help many people ensure that they have treatment without any interruption. If it is to go and get treatment for them, better we get to ensure that they remain on treatment,” said Mbewe.