Beginning in late 2017, ICRW along with three partners, piloted a support group designed to facilitate healthy transitions to adulthood among adolescent girls aged 15-19 living with HIV in Lusaka, Zambia. The group was named ‘Tikambisane’, which means ‘Let’s talk to each other’ in Nyanga, a local Zambian language. The research team chose this name because it reflected the essence of the support group approach, in providing a safe space for adolescent girls to talk with, share stories and support each other. The Tikambisane curriculum was designed collaboratively with adolescent girls living with HIV, healthcare providers, HIV counselors, program implementers and research staff to address the key needs and concerns identified in our formative research. The curriculum sessions addressed topics including, getting to know you, disclosure and stigma, treatment, relationships, loss and grief, and planning for the future.
ICRW’s research found that support groups like Tikambisane provided an opportunity for adolescent girls living with HIV to meet other girls ‘like them’ in a safe environment and build social connections important for coping. “When I am in the support group and with friends, I just have fun, hanging out with my friends… When I come to the support group I even forget many things.” (18 years old, Chipata)
Our research found a significant increase in the hope for the future, indicating that the knowledge and support gained improved the girls’ outlook in terms of future accomplishments. “I see that I can have a different life, from where I have been…because last year, in fact last year I was living a life where I was not happy at all times, being alone most times. Now I think my friends will be more and I will have a lot of things to do.” (19 years old, Kanyama)
Overall, ICRW’s findings suggest that a support group holds promise for helping adolescent girls living with HIV to safely navigate a complex time in their lives. The intervention filled critical support gaps that were not being met with other services and that would provide a healthier future for the girls.