Wednesday, 25 January 2012 12:10

KENYA: What to Do If Your Child Tests Positive for HIV


HIV has plagued Kenya and the sub-Saharan region for the last three decades. An estimated 1.5 million people are living with the virus and 1.2 million children have been orphaned by Aids.

Thanks to increased awareness and access to treatment, more than half of the adults who need treatment are receiving it. Unfortunately, only an estimated one in every five children that require ARVs have access to it.

This demonstrates Kenya still has a long way to go in providing access to HIV treatment, prevention and care, and more so for children.

Myths about HIV in children There is still a lot of stigma surrounding HIV transmission in children, and most parents, even when tested positive for HIV, will not test their young children as they cannot believe they would be infected.

Secondly, parents feel that divulging the HIV status to a child may damage them and expose them to discrimination and ridicule.

Education surrounding certain myths of transmission must be given to all caregivers to ensure a child lives as normally as they possibly can.

Information to quell these myths includes: HIV is not transmissible through every day routine contact or through sneezing, coughing, hugging, touching or sharing food.

Clothes of an HIV-positive child can be washed with everyone else's clothes unless soiled with blood, urine, vomit or faeces, in which case they should be washed separately and then bleached and air dried.

No eating restrictions are required for an HIV-positive child. They can be served with the rest of the family and their plates washed with everyone else's as well.

An HIV-positive child's toys can be shared with other children, however should they put a toy in the mouth, it should be washed with warm, soapy water.

This is mostly to prevent the spread of common childhood infections such as rota virus to other family members. Transmission of HIV in children Most children with HIV have been infected all of their lives through mother-to-child transmission.

This remains the main mode of transmission and occurs in pregnancy, during labour and delivery and through breastfeeding. Blood and blood product transmission is common in children who may have received blood transfusions as treatment of other conditions.

A few children may be infected through sexual transmission after assault or defilement as minors.

Signs and symptoms of HIV in children Of the HIV-positive born children, only 20 per cent develop serious infections in the first year of life, and most of these children die by their fifth birthday.

The second and larger group has slow disease progression and may only develop problems at adolescence. Common signs and symptoms that give clues to clinicians and parents include: Failure to thrive or to attain the expected weight for their age.

Delayed developmental milestones, such as failure to sit or walk when they are expected to.

Brain problems such as seizures, difficulty walking and poor performance in school.

Frequent childhood illnesses such as ear infections, colds and diarrhoea. As immunity deteriorates, they may also develop opportunistic infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis of the lungs and severe oral thrush or diaper rash.

So what must one do when their child is diagnosed with HIV? One must first see a doctor to confirm the diagnosis and then begin management based on the level of their immunity.

Children must be informed of their status in an appropriate manner. It is important the child understands why they must take drugs every day, so that they are more compliant.

The parent or caregiver must seek education materials on HIV from health practitioners to ensure they are well equipped to administer drugs and maintain the child's hygiene and proper nutrition.

Seek professional counselling to help cope with the emotions that arise with this diagnosis. This counselling may be from a trained counsellor or even a pastor.

Watch out for opportunistic infections and ensure you seek medical assistance right away.

Lastly it is important to continue taking drugs as prescribed to ensure that the risk of resistance to commonly found and effective ARVs is minimised.

Source: The Nation (Nairobi, Kenya)

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