Kids Born with HIVOctober 7, 2010
Mariamu’s parents both died of AIDS when she was very young. She walks about 2 miles to school each day and after school she goes into the fields to collect reeds and palm fronds which her grandmother weaves into mat and basket material to make money. Her grandmother can’t walk anymore so once a month, Mariamu boards a small bus by herself and rides for about an hour through villages and town, then walks to the hospital where she attends one of the HIV clinic’s “kid days” and picks up her free ART medicine. For 4 years she has understood that she contracted HIV from her parents and that in order to stay alive, she has to take her medicine twice a day. What sets Mariamu apart from many is that she is incredibly self possessed, and happy. She understands what her illness is and she copes, and smiles a lot. She’s actually not one of the ones who we’re really worried about. Mariamu is one of hundreds of children in Bagamoyo growing up with HIV. Many of them don’t understand anything about the virus they carry or the precautions that they will have to take when they reach puberty. Some parents are too ashamed to tell them, or don’t want to bring up the taboo subjects of sex or death. Some of the children understand their status all too well and are depressed, withdrawn and suffer from abuse from their peers.
Thanks to volunteers Liana Woskie and Katie Balk though, The Baobab Home is now conducting research on the psychosocial needs of children living with HIV. We have finished the preliminary interview stage and this Saturday we will lead discussion groups with dozens of parents and caregivers about how best to expand our breakfast program to meet the growing psychosocial needs of positive kids. The good news is that fewer and fewer children are born positive each year, yet it happens. But for Mariamu and her many peers, born before drugs were available here, something must be done to help them to live the healthiest and happiest life possible.