Supporting Africa’s HIV+ kids

1.  One of the really insidious things about the AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa is that its effects are so broad and far-reaching.  A recent article from Namibia addresses the problems faced by schoolchildren affected by AIDS:

Teachers and heads of departments should not discriminate against orphans and HIV-infected children enrolled at their schools, the Kunene Regional Education Director Kabajani Kamwi has said. […]

“Let us not discriminate against our own children. HIV/AIDS does not choose and thus school principals please, do not chase orphans and other vulnerable children out of school because of failure to settle school fees. Government is helping with exemptions where it is due and in some other cases, hostel discounts,” said Kamwi.

2.  In addition to the practical problems HIV infected and affected children face, the emotional impact of the disease (which, in my experience, isn’t discussed as often as maybe it should be) must also be addressed.  This article from The East African discusses how the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric Aids Foundation, USAID, and Uganda’s Ministry of Health have collaborated to produce guidelines for setting up “children’s HIV/Aids support groups” as a way to address “the psycho-social support needs of HIV-positive children.”

According to the Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric Aids Foundation, the guidelines will help communities throughout Uganda, and ultimately the region to set up their own Ariel Children’s Clubs.

Ariel Children’s Clubs feature a monthly get-together of children who are infected or affected by HIV/Aids. The focus of the clubs is to enable children to interact and learn in a friendly, conducive environment. The clubs are named after Elizabeth Glaser’s daughter, Ariel, who left a legacy of hope after succumbing to Aids in 1988.

3.  Finally, a recent article talks about a new film about HIV and young people.  “IRIN/PlusNews’s new film, Love, Positively looks at the lives of young adults who have been infected with HIV since birth.”

This article introduces us to Gordon (age 20) and Princess (age 22), a young Ugandan couple who “have both been HIV-positive since birth, and both are alive because they have been on life-prolonging antiretroviral (ARV) medication for several years now.”

Gordon and Princess describe the difficulties of growing up with HIV, especially the stigma they faced from family members and peers:

“The first stigma I faced was [at] home. My [step] mum told my siblings about my status … as if it was my problem [fault],” Gordon told IRIN/PlusNews. “And even at school, when students saw my [ARV] drugs in my school bag they stigmatised me.”

Parents and guardians often find it hard to explain to children that they are HIV-positive; Princess only discovered she was HIV-positive at the age of 18. Her doctors told her she was HIV-positive and when she told her mother, she accused Princess of having acquired the virus sexually.

“It was a shock to find out, but my mom’s reaction made it even more terrible,” Princess said. “I knew I had never had sex before, so there could only be one explanation that made sense, especially since I had been so sickly throughout my childhood.”

Yet the couple also shares a great deal of hope: “Princess says years of counselling and peer support group meetings have given her the ability to cope with tough times, and her relationship with Gordon is also a source of strength.”

In my view, Princess and Gordon’s bittersweet story is a moving testimony to a profound level of courage, strength, and hope that I’m sure is shared by countless young people living with HIV around the world.

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~ by h.e.g. on June 30, 2008.

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