Photos in reports do not necessarily mean the children have HIV
Treatment for HIV positive children is getting better all the time and it is free. But some guardians only know half the story. Alagar, aged 11, is now taking treatment, but only after an 18 month struggle. He lives with his granny and uncle’s family and he never knew his father. They all saw his mum die of HIV. “Those drugs made her worse not better” his granny grumbles. “Look at Alagar, he is fine and active and doing well at school – why should I risk making him take those strong drugs? She knows a little about the 6 monthly blood monitoring test. “His CD4 is over 800, what’s wrong with that?” she asks our volunteers proudly.
It is true that medication used to be started when the CD4 (immunity measuring blood cell) dropped to around 300 but we now know that the treatment works best when started early. Our volunteers tried and tried to convince her, sometimes Alagar would get fed up and hide behind a tree! One day his uncle was listening in and commented “When we feel really sick we do what the doctors say quick enough, we know Alagar is really sick inside, perhaps these people know what they are talking about”. Uncles are sometimes accused of being indifferent – but this time it was uncle who tipped the balance!
Through your generous donations we have enrolled 951 children with HIV in the six districts in South India where we work. We couldn’t find 138 because of incomplete or false address, or because they have moved away or died. We have persuaded 63 children who we knew were not taking medication to start or to re-start. These need close follow-up and encouragement, the guardians need to be convinced that very regular tablet taking is vital. Even now, there are 41 not on treatment and we hope we can convince them before it is too late.
We have counselled over 200 parents and guardians on the need to discuss HIV with their younger wards. We think that 127 have now done so but there may be around 167 who are still reluctant. Some are embarrassed - they may feel guilt or shame - some think the children are too young and are afraid about how they might react. All the research suggests that full disclosure by age 13 is best. Many of these children know they have HIV and are confused because it is not talked about. It is also known that good discussion helps to stop children from going into denial and rebelling against treatment when they get a bit older.
We have discussed marriage with 146 adolescent girls who were born HIV positive. We know that 13 of them are already in love with HIV negative boys. We discuss the advantages and disadvantages but always encourage and advise early disclosure. More recently we have been talking with 183 HIV positive boys and young men, over half were infected through unsafe sex rather than being born with HIV. Most say that they would disclose their HIV status to the future spouse and many say they would prefer to marry HIV positive girls. The government counsellors are best placed to discuss with these young people, but for a variety of reasons they often don’t. At the moment we are in dialogue with 49 of these counsellors and hope that some at least will take up work with adolescents.
There is still plenty to do and we want to thank you again for your support.
One other thing. December 3rd 2019 is “Giving Tuesday”. GlobalGiving will give away HALF A MILLION US DOLLARS to boost each and every donation made on that day. We will get back to you shortly with more details of how we can maximise the way we can improve more young lives.