'You and I can choose to be your community ambassadors to spread clear messages full of hope and courage among children, whether positive or not, to end HIV in children'
PROTECTING THE CHILD FROM HIV/AIDS
By Annet Nakibuuka
As we commemorate this year's day of the African Child, we ought to focus our beam of light to one of the most pressing issues that disturb the peace of children in Africa, particularly in Uganda.
Today, more than 130000 children in Uganda (according to the World Bank collection of development indicators, 2016) are struggling with the pandemic. It presents with illnesses such as tuberculosis, AIDS, malnutrition and so much more, compared to our counterparts in Europe, United States of America and Asia. Our situation is alarming!!!!!
The 2017 UNAIDS report indicates that globally, there were 2.1 million children living with HIV, registering 120,000 AIDS-related deaths, and 160,000 new infections among children in 2016. Of these, Uganda takes way above 4600 new infections, thus the 47% increment of children living with HIV.
Similarly, the 2016 UNICEF Seventh Stocktaking report showed that every day, around 400 children become infected with HIV/AIDS worldwide, some of whom are Ugandans. According to UNAIDS 2017, only 43 per cent of children living with HIV received Anti-Retroviral Treatment in 2016.
The reason is, HIV affects children in many ways, including, but not limited to related illnesses like Tuberculosis and AIDS, and it makes them prone to stigma and discrimination among their peers, homes and society at large. It also causes low self-esteem, poor performance in schools, stunted growth, and insecurity in general.
Children contract HIV commonly at birth from their mothers, save for the other ways. In the African setting, more so Uganda, we still have expectant mothers refusing to attend antenatal care at legalised health facilities, but go to Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) who lack experience in handling HIV preventive child births, antenatal and post natal care and as a result, pregnant women end up producing HIV positive babies. Research has showed that the continued existence of TBAs in Uganda, is the major reason to increased HIV in children, despite the country adopting the Elimination of Mother to Child Transmission (eMTCT) strategy in September 2012.
In order to end HIV among children, let us work together and put an end to violation of children's rights: report cases of defilement, torture, and irresponsible parenthood, end wars and let positive expectant mothers adhere to treatment and other medical instructions. If ignored, all these contribute a lot to the spread of HIV among children in Africa.
That done, there is the big job of ending stigma and discrimination towards children living with HIV particularly in schools, so that they can settle as they pave way for their future. For this reason, parents and caretakers should willingly disclose their children's HIV+ status to the school administration, for the children to be helped accordingly. Also, there is need to provide adequate information and guidance regarding HIV for these children to live a positive life in which they make informed decisions.
The challenge is that there are many children living with HIV but are silently suffering without help, some even without the knowledge that they are positive. It is for this reason that UNICEF emphasises her commitment to preventing mother-to-child transmission through providing lifelong HIV treatment and support to 95% of pregnant women living with HIV. The institution also calls for urgent scale up of HIV testing including at birth, at six to eight weeks of age, and treatment coverage to 95% of all children living with HIV, reach those who have not been tested, or who have dropped out of regular care and treatment altogether, as well as integrating efforts to reach children living with HIV with health, nutrition and protection services.
In regard to this, I commend the government of Uganda for allocating UGX 2,308.4 billion to the health sector in the 2018/2019 national budget, and I appeal to those responsible to allocate a reasonable amount to fighting HIV, specifically among children.
Therefore, as Ugandans, let us join hands to support children living with HIV and end any possible new infections among children. This is possible if we revise our sexual life behaviour, end stigma and discrimination, ensure HIV-positive mothers and fathers visit health facilities for antenatal care as soon as they learn are pregnant and care takers emphasising adherence to treatment for children living with HIV. Also, you and I can choose to be your community ambassadors to spread clear messages full of hope and courage among children, whether positive or not, calling for commitment to end HIV in children.
Affirmative action is another way we can support children living with HIV, through skilling them to do a specific activities (like drama) especially in schools and organisations running HIV programs, so as to end internal stigma.
Together we can achieve the target AIDS free generation in Uganda, come 2030.
The writer is an HIV activist