The Impact of HIV/AIDS On children
By Saadatu Ovosi
Globally the Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) are pandemics that pose great challenges to public health. As a blood borne and sexually transmitted infection, HIV has variable patterns of transmission and disproportionately affects disadvantaged or marginalized persons such as commercial sex workers, injection drug users, homosexuals, and persons living in poverty.
HIV causes AIDS by infecting and damaging parts of the body’s defence system against infection, and makes it difficult for the body to fight off infections lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell in the body's immune (infection-fighting) system that is supposed to fight off invading germs.HIV can be transmitted through direct contact with the blood or body fluid of someone who is infected with the virus. That contact usually comes from sharing needles or by having unprotected sex with an infected person. An infant could get HIV from a mother who is infected. Though there are treatments for HIV and AIDS, there are no cures for the infections. They can only be managed and controlled.
The HIV infection has caused approximately 20 million deaths as at 2001 according to the Joint United Nations Program on AIDS (UNAIDS). An estimated 36 million persons are also infected
Poverty is one of the major causes of the spread of HIV which causes people’s health to decline to AIDS. Poor people in developing countries are often faced with difficult choices such as going hungry that night, or making money in whatever way possible to put food on the table. Often they engage in prostitution and so increasing risk to HIV. While the first choice involves immediate and definite risks (hunger), the second involves only possible risk (HIV infection). Even in countries where HIV rates are as high, there is still a chance of not becoming infected because . And even if one does become infected, it is often some years before illness and debilitation sets in. It is a risk some have no choice but to take.
Those most affected by HIV/AIDS are children. Although "childhood" might differ for every human being and numerous interpretations of the concept exist, common to all is a period in the early years of human life marked by rapid growth and development.. During the years of physical growth in which a child matures towards adulthood, the child is also developing psychologically and in ways that define intellectual, social, spiritual and emotional characteristics.
According to a recent report from the United Nations, more than 50% of the 16,000 new HIV infections which occur daily are within this age bracket of 14-25 years. An additional 10% of new infections occur among children under age 15. Since the virus was first identified in 1981, more than 3 million children have been born HIV positive and the mothers of over 8 million children have died from AIDS. By the year 2010 it is predicted that as many as 40 million children in developing countries will have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS. In some countries this is equivalent to one in every 4 to 6 children. The effects of HIV and AIDS on children who are orphaned, or in families where parents are living with the virus, not only include these calculable loses, but also the immeasurable effects of altered roles and relationships within families.
Clearly HIV infection has its greatest impact on the young despite a large number of children affected by HIV/AIDS being taken into the stable and caring homes of family and neighbours, many are likely to develop mental health problems because they will not be exposed to several formative influences
Children, by necessity, require continued support, but they also possess enormous potential for growth and sustainability. Successful approaches have been developed which focus on increasing the ability of families and communities to care for their children. If the common goal is to end the global epidemic then it is time to look at the problem beyond a focus on the virus, as it exists within the human body, and to find ways to alter the social and economic environment that enable it to flourish. It is time for mass mobilisation and education not only about HIV/AIDS but also about the social context of underdevelopment and poverty that engulfs many of those communities which also have the highest rate of infection and to reduce the impact on children.
It is necessary that free drugs and treatments are provided for children and their parent or guardians they depend on. If possible, life-enhancing medication to prolong the age of the affected children to adulthood should be produced to enable the leaders of tomorrow benefit of quality living.
Opportunities that foster the well being of a person begin in the uterus and depend on long term support from others. With the strength and skills for independence and self sufficiency, cooperative efforts on all levels of society are required towards promoting healthy growth and development of children.
Peer education should be organised involving children and adolescents in age-appropriate peer on the viruses in their communities. Children should be encouraged to work with facilitators in learning about HIV/AIDS. They can design projects, create educational materials; participate in drama and talkshow in schools and community meetings.
Such approaches not only provide a mechanism for education and public awareness on HIV/AIDS but also build confidence and self-esteem in those children and young people who are involved.
Saadatu Ovosi (NYSC Corper)
Emergency Management Vanguard (EMV)