the silence that surrounds children affected by hiv

Posted by Vita Sinclair

Wed, 4 Apr 2012

“The silence that surrounds children affected by HIV/AIDS and the inaction that results is morally reprehensible and unacceptable. If this situation is not addressed, and not addressed now with increased urgency, millions of children will continue to die, and tens of millions more will be further marginalised, stigmatised, malnourished, uneducated, and psychologically damaged.” UNICEF, 2002.

The World Bank estimates that nearly 2 million of children have been made vulnerable as a result of HIV/AIDs. India is in the epicentre of this crisis. Vulnerable children experience emotional, household and educational problems as well as having to deal with the stigmatisation of the illness. UNDP studies have shown that more than 1/3rd of houses affected by HIV are run by widows. However, many of them do not own property and usually have no income forcing them to take up dangerous jobs, like becoming sex workers. Children often start working in the informal sector, to generate income to help take care of the sick in their house.

Some schools even refuse admission to HIV positive children.Two years ago, the parents of more than 400 children threatened to withdraw them from a government-funded school in Kerala if two HIV-infected children were allowed to enroll.” In some parts of the world, HIV positive children have to hide their positive status in order to go to school. A school has been opened in Warrangal of Andhra Pradesh which is exclusively for children with HIV/AIDs. It’s a ray of hope for the children who have been rejected and banned from other schools.

Nationally as well, India is making an effort to try to tackle the problems its HIV affected children face. The policy framework for children and AIDS, show the three main tasks the NACO (National AIDs control organization) try to address:
1) Prevention of AIDs
2) Catching early treatment
3) Overcome stigma and discrimination

Prevention of AIDs can only be done by helping to create awareness about the disease. In many schools sexual education is still a sensitive issue. Surprisingly, teachers are the main source of resistance against sexual education being taught. In September of 2008, the High Court in Uttar Pradesh decided that sexual education was not going to be taught to all students to raise awareness for AIDs, and that it could only be taught in biology classes. This meant that any student that didn’t choose to take science subjects would never receive sex education.

Screening is of utmost importance for catching HIV early. Children less than 5 years old with HIV/AIDS have a very high mortality rate, as they have a weaker immune system thus identifying children before 18 months provides the best outcomes in terms of quality of life.  This is only true though where children can access adequate nutrition and regular CD4 check-ups to monitor their health.

On a local level, there are smaller things India can do to help HIV affected children. In Botswana the government started a “food basket” scheme which meant that every registered orphan household was provided with a basket of food every month, along with school uniform and subsidised transport. In December of 2005, it was said that this scheme had 50,557 orphans registered.
Despite these successes, overcoming stigma and discrimination is going to be the hardest task for India. The population of India must accept that HIV does not only linger in sex workers and IV drug users. Anyone could have HIV; our neighbours, teachers, bankers or our loved ones. It is time India for India to step up the effort it is already making to give HIV affected children the chance of a better life.

 

By Ayesha Kumar. Ayesha is studying at Manchester university and is a sub-editor for the education section of the new Medsin Magazine.

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