It kills 8,500 people every day, and with over 40 million people infected worldwide, HIV-AIDS remains a major global
health and life issue. While success stories such as Uganda’s ABC programme, stressing abstinence and fidelity, have brought infection rates down from 21% in the late 1980’s to a current level of 4-5%, countries such as Botswana have an infection rate of almost 40% of the adult population.
But HIV-AIDS is not just an adult problem. Children too are vulnerable to a sexually-transmitted disease, a social reality that is as absurd as it is sickening.
Over 2000 children (under -fifteen) are infected with HIV every day. Statistics on total under-eighteen infections are difficult to ascertain
Or, to put it another way, one child dies every minute from HIV-AIDS. Four are infected – every minute. So by the time you read this, depending on how quickly you read, or if you are interested enough to finish, maybe 8-12 children will have been infected with the virus by the end of the article. And 2-3 will be dead.
Just 12 years old, Kennedy is HIV-positive. His eyes fade shyly to the floor at each question, and flick around the room briefly as he answers, without focusing on anything, and quickly direct to the ground again. He is barely audible as he speaks.
Kennedy has been in the GOAL Rescue Centre since December 2004. He misses his two younger sisters – but he does not say very much. He does tell us however, “I like being here. But I want to find a home.”
Florence Gesage, GOAL social worker at the Nairobi rescue centre, takes up the story.
“In 2004 some ladies called us from Athi River, telling us about three children who needed urgent rescue.”
“We went to investigate, and asked first for the parents. We were told that the parents had died. That they died from AIDS.”
It is estimated that by 2010 there will be 20 million AIDS orphans in Africa.
“ Kennedy and two younger sisters were living with an older brother and sister. But the older ones did not take care of them. They had to fend for themselves. But there was worse to come.”
“The people who told us about Kennedy said they the children were being abused, sexually-abused. His older brother was one of the abusers.”
“Kennedy was diagnosed HIV-positive – because of the abuse.”
“ We began counselling, and the abuse case went to court. Kennedy was first to testify, but he refused to talk.”
“The prosecution failed. So the perpetrators were released.”
“We got in touch with some of the extended family, they were interested at first in taking the children in. But when they were told Kennedy is HIV-positive, they refused.”
“The girls are placed with family members now. But it is difficult to place a child who has HIV, even in his own family.”
“He has been down with measles and TB, he has been in hospital many times. We pay for his HIV treatment. He knows he is sick, and maybe that’s as hard for him as anything.”
Only 5% of the 570,000 under-15’s that die from HIV-AIDS each year receive any treatment. And just 2c a day provides effective antibiotics to enable him or her deal with the infections that can prove fatal to a HIV-positive child.
Amid the calls for cheaper drugs to treat HIV-positive adults, it remains six times more expensive to treat a HIV-positive child. Children need different forms of medication than adults. Syrups, for example, are more expensive to produce and have a shorter shelf-life than pills or syringe-style medication. Pharmaceutical companies have yet to develop the drugs that children need, in either scale or specialization.
Kennedy’s story speaks for itself – but it is a double wrong when a minor becomes HIV-positive due to the trangressions of an adult.
Meanwhile, Kennedy has gone outside, kicking a football around with his friend Emmanuel.
When we interrupt, he asks Florence if he can go visit his younger sisters soon.
“I haven’t seen them for a month. I’d like to go there soon. Can I go?”
As part of GOALs child protection policy, pseudonyms have been used for the children in this article.Show