International Children’s Day: Looking after young people affected by HIV
May 31 2013
1 June is International Children’s Day. This year we’re reflecting on the 3.4 million children under the age of 15 who live with HIV and AIDS, and the inspiring work of our partners to improve their lives.
The HIV pandemic doesn’t just threaten the physical health and survival of millions of children around the world. It also destroys their families and deprives them of love, care and protection. Many of them are excluded from their communities and schools because of stigma and discrimination.
12-year-old Blenda lives in Lukaya, a rural area in Uganda. She lost her mum because of AIDS when she was four, and then became sick herself. Blenda’s grandmother pushed for her to be tested at CAFOD’s partner, the Kitovu Mobile clinic for HIV testing. At first her dad refused, believing antiretroviral drugs had killed his three brothers. But Blenda’s grandmother persisted and Blenda got tested. She was found to be HIV positive.
The Kitovu Mobile AIDS Organisation supported Blenda to attend peer support group workshops for HIV positive children. “I shared with my dad what I learned from the workshops: that HIV drugs don’t kill people but to help them live positively with HIV. Since then he always encourages me to take the drugs,” she says.
Blenda is now secretary of her support group, where she shares her experiences and ways of reducing the risk of infection. “I want to ask parents and guardians of children living with HIV and AIDS to show them love, educate them, and not to discriminate against them, because we are like any other children”, says Blenda.
The future for young people affected by HIV and AIDS
Our partners around the world have found that young people find it easiest to talk about their condition when it’s to other young people. But we need to make sure they get the right information and have a thorough understanding about HIV, so we train young people to be peer educators.
We also know that stigma and fear often stop young people from getting the medical help they need. Our partners tell us one barrier is the attitude of the adults in whom they should be able to confide. That’s why we want to step up our work to lobby governments, to make HIV counselling, testing and services more accessible to young people.
In Peru, one of our partners is developing partnerships between health workers and teachers. Teachers are often the first port of call for questions from young people but don’t always know the answers. They can refer the young people to health workers who can offer information, guidance, counselling and friendly care, while trained adolescents and youth leaders answer concerns from young people in the neighbourhood.
I want to ask parents and guardians of children living with HIV and AIDS to show them love. We are like any other children”
At CAFOD we’ve always believed our faith calls us to walk alongside those most affected by poverty and injustice. We’re redoubling efforts to ensure universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support and to eliminate mother to child transmission of HIV.
As well as providing care for people living with HIV, we support people to start up small businesses so that they can provide for their families, plant nutrition gardens to supplement their diets, assist with will-writing to ensure that children have legal rights to inherit their parents’ property, support children to go to school and work with communities and faith leaders to reduce stigma and discrimination.
This International Children’s Day let’s share the vision of a HIV-free generation, and keep working to make a difference to children’s lives.