HIV infection is a major threat to child survival and development in east and southern Africa, where 47% of the world’s HIV-positive children live, says the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Globally, pediatric treatment for children and adolescents has lagged behind according to some reports, with deaths in adolescents aged 10-19 increasing annually, as other age demographics decrease.
UNICEF in Zimbabwe has been working with government and other stakeholders to scale up pediatric and adolescent anti-retro viral treatment for HIV positive children, who officials said are often left out of such programs.
UNICEF Zimbabwe HIV/AIDS manager, Joyce Mphaya, told VOA Studio 7 in Zimbabwe about 56% of adolescents living with HIV are accessing treatment, a figure Mphaya said shows there is more work to be done.
She outlined various challenges in adolescent treatment that have become a cause for concern for stakeholders.
“The first issue is identification, you’ll realize that some of the adolescents that are living with HIV some of them were born HIV positive but they were never identified when they were young because they never got sick and the parents also don’t know they’ve got HIV,” said Mphaya.
She said this type of challenge makes it difficult to place the young children or adolescents on treatment because their status is unknown.
Parents also face the challenge of explaining the status of their children to them as they get older. For some parents, it is easier to assist children in the taking of medicines without explaining what they are for than doing the same when they are older as they ask a lot of questions.
“Some of the parents … they are finding it difficult to disclose to the children that they are HIV positive that they are getting ARVs… and some of them once they realize they that the medicines are for ARVs they stop taking the medicines. I think because they are angry, they don’t’ understand why should it be them,” said Mphaya.
Other challenges are the reaction of a child after learning about one’s status and the fear of stigma from peers and one’s community.
UNICEF along with the government of Zimbabwe and other stakeholders are now working on programs to assist parents and adolescent children in dealing with HIV and also making sure they are able to access medicines and live healthy lives.
The organization has been conducting HIV testing campaigns called “Know your child’s Status,” going into communities taking the testing to the people and asking parents to bring all their children for testing.
Under its “You Report” platform, UNICEF will be targeting young people, allowing them to send SMS questions to counselors on various issues including challenges of HIV.