New Lease of life for HIV infants

Edward Makuzva

, Feature

THE notation that children have rights is no longer a belligerent issue in Africa, but birth registration systems are underdeveloped and many laws to protect children from discrimination or violence remain untouched.

Against this background Tamuka Foundation has housed infants, mothers and guardians in Kuwadzana Extension, approximately 20 kilometers outside the city center where they guard against the abuse of young children living with HIV/AIDS.

The Director of Tamuka Foundation Veronica Kwati, said through home-based care programmes, grassroots women across Africa are leading holistic responses to HIV and AIDS in their communities.

Coping with AIDS issues daily, they are clear that HIV is not a health issue. She said it encompasses all aspects of daily life- access to basic services including water, sanitation and transportation, livelihoods, food and security, inheritance rights and governance.

“Our dream is to have a centre- a multidisciplinary center not just for the people living with HIV and orphans, but also for their care givers – a day centre where people come in the morning and in the afternoon.

In that day they would be cared for, educated, counseled and comforted.

“Although recently there has been more focus on how HIV and AIDS affected young people, the issue of children affected by AIDS is still relatively neglected and where the young are concerned, their invisibility is striking”, Kwati explained.

Kwati added communities have long been at the forefront of responding to the pandemic providing support and care for orphans and vulnerable children, even where government and external support has been minimal.

More than 90% of all children are cared for in communities and extended families, which is increasingly being headed by grandparents.

The director said these informal coping mechanisms and the social relations they depend on, are increasingly at breaking point, and it is often a case of ‘the very helping the destitute’.

In many impoverished communities, the capacity of people to respond in socially caring ways has been severely eroded.

She highlighted that there is a real concern that some external interventions can undermine local responses and actually make things worse.

External organisations need to take on complementary roles, to really support the community action and build the capacity of local organizations yet communities often end up with a fraction of the money available, as it is absorbed by a host of intermediary organisations.

Kwati added development action must be build on the initiative of local communities and channel resources to them without undermining their existing coping and mechanisms.

What is the appropriate balance between providing jobs and livelihoods and development support?

“Institutional care for children is considered a poor second – best to care in an extended family setting, but is increasingly common as more children are orphaned and families fail to cope with additional expense and burden of care. It is vital that any institutional care that is provided is of the highest quality.

“Community mobilization needs to be systematic to engage local leaders, support open discussion of HIV and AIDS, consolidate cooperative support activities and ensure that those children without family support receive care and protection.

“There is need for continuous, locally appropriate, steady supply of resources so that communities can sustain their response and improve the wellbeing of their children”, Kwati said.

Life Empowerment Support Organisation (LESO) Director Olive Mtambeni said   there is need to implement the essential services and social protection measures promised in national action plans o children and HIV and AIDS, in many cases of the different ministries involved need to be better integrated.

Mtambeni said participatory approaches that support children’s rights to expression and participation in decision making need to be further developed and supported.

LESO director highlighted that violence and other forms of abuse against children need to be addressed as an urgent priority and more ways of channeling resources to poor communities and families without undermining their existing support strategies need to be identified and scaled up.

More attention needs to be implored to ensure the  involvement of  young children in HIV related issues.

“Civil society’s organizations need to promote public debate on effective action for children affected by the pandemic and monitor implementation of plans to hold governments into account.

“In addition to medical priorities such as the vital development of new pediatric formulations, there needs to be long term   support for poverty alleviation, community development and social security and a strengthening of the general health and education systems in short crisis response that only targets individual children living with HIV and AIDS”, Mtambeni explained.

The United Nations defines an orphan as a child who has lost one or both parents.

The impact of HIV in Zimbabwe has been tragic.

It is estimated that more than one million children have been orphaned by the disease with  3,5 million children living below the food poverty line.  With the trends, orphans are less likely to go to school, have birth certificates or access healthcare.

Health expects said around 14, 8 million of these children live in sub Saharan Africa. In some countries which are badly affected by the pandemic a large percentage of all children, for example 16 % of children in Zimbabwe and 12 % in Botswana and Swaziland are orphaned due to AIDS.

Arccoding to UNICEF, for many of these children, schools offer not only a place to learn but also a safe space where they can interact with other children, receive meals and learn important life skills.

World wide, it estimated that more than 16 million children under 18 years have been orphaned by AIDS.