A question that keeps coming to mind as the world celebrated the AIDS Day on a quiet note despite the scaring figures associated with increasing numbers of infections each year is, “Where do HIV+ children go after the demise of their parents?”.
According to the press release of the World Health Organization (WHO) for the World AIDS Day, the estimated 37.9 million people living with HIV at the end of 2018; 79% received testing, 62% received treatment, and 53% had achieved suppression of the HIV virus with reduced risk of infecting others.
For Ghana, data showed that there were an estimated 334,713 people living with HIV (PLWHIV), and that out of the figure, 117,199, that is 35 per cent, were males and 217,514, or 65 per cent, were females.
Adults 15 years and above were 305,199, representing 91 per cent, and children aged zero to 14 years were 29,514 or nine per cent. The estimated number of new infections in 2018 was 19,931, of which 7,663 were males and 12,258 females.
Of the figures, 5,532 (or 28 per cent) were aged between 15 and 24 years. Adults that were newly infected were 83 per cent or 16,614, with children being 3,317 or 17 per cent for 2018 respectively.
The Acting Director of the Ghana Health Service made further shocking revelations that included the numerous lives that are being lost as a result of the disease. In 2018, an estimated 14,181 people died of AIDS-related ailments. Out of the figure, 11,412 were adults, 15 years and above, while 2,789 or 20 per cent were children between zero and 14 years.
The estimates further showed that, 16,421 pregnant women needed to be placed on Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT) while 12,950 were on Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) for PMTCT, meaning 78.86 per cent of pregnant women with HIV needed ART.
In 2018, an estimated 3,317 children were infected with HIV because they could not have PMTCT. Out of the figure, 1,700, or 51 per cent, were males and 1,617, representing 49 per cent, were females.
The Ghana AIDS Commission through its acting Director General of the GAC, Mr Kyeremeh Atuahene, said measures had been put in place to meet the 90-90-90 targets by 2020, adding that Ghana, through the 2018 survey, now knew the exact number of people living with HIV and AIDS.
That’s a great job regarding the overall status of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the country but just to ask, “where are the HIV+ positive children or children affected by HIV/AIDS?”
These are children under 18 years of age who are in one of the two categories: children who have lost one or both of their parents to HIV-related illness (AIDS orphans), children living with one or both HIV infected parents (vulnerable children) and have lost either one or both parents to the disease.
Where can these Ghanaian children be found? Do their families, friends and society accept them into their homes and see them as normal children that are given all the needed attention and love as children who are not affected by HIV?
Recently, Rev Azumah, an HIV/AIDS ambassador, in Ghana on TV enumerated serious and traumatic experiences HIV+ children or children affected by HIV/AIDS go through in the hands of family, relatives and close associates.
As a result of this, he has an orphanage that houses some HIV+ children and those affected by HIV/AIDS. How lucky these children might be to find themselves in this orphanage to have enough peace as compared to the stigmatization, discriminatory tendencies and maltreatment from self-acclaimed loved ones and relatives.
In Ghana, ingrained societal misconceptions causes families and society to treat a child who has lost his/her parent to lung or breast cancer with disdain, thus, thinking about the treatment given to HIV+ children and or children affected by HIV/AIDS is not a pleasant thought.
l cannot imagine how life will be for this innocent child considering the current overburdened financial pressure on families coupled with the crude misconception that, HIV/AIDS is only contracted through ‘promiscuous’ lifestyle. It will be a difficult situation and a near impossible decision for family or relatives to accept an HIV+ child as their own.
The weakened immune system of these children makes them vulnerable and will need the support of family which is non-existent in most cases. There are numerous unanswered questions that keep bothering me so let me run you through it and share in my plight.
Who wants to come home after a busy day to cater for an HIV+ child specially or keep running to the hospital most times out of their busy schedules to queue just to get anti-retroviral drugs and monitor these children take these drugs appropriately?
Who wants to live with the ‘fear’ of waking up to knowing that there is a sure possibility of contracting HIV/AIDS? Who wants to be the individual who is stigmatized by society for their decision to keep an HIV+ child?
Who wants to go through all this? Yourself, your friend, your sister or brother or a colleague. What will be your advice to a colleague, friend or relative who wants to adopt an HIV+ child?
Will you sound fearful, hopeful or supportive of this decision? All these and more, are the mind-pricking questions that need to be answered by all of us. Until then, where do HIV+ children go to after the demise of their parents?
By Adwoa Adubia