Teenagers born with HIV… Society’s worst kept secret

by Helvy Shaanika

Teenagers born with HIV… Society’s worst kept secret

Ongwediva

Some children born with HIV remain unaware of their status and have started indulging in risky sexual behaviour, a senior health official observed.

Many parents allegedly fear breaking news of infection to their children – some of whom are now older teenagers involved in intimate relationships.



Karolina Shiyagaya, chief health programme officer in the Ministry of Health and Social Services, said although it is very important for children to be made aware of their status and be educated about the virus, nurses and other health workers do not have the right to inform such children that they are infected without parental consent.

Through counselling, parents are advised to tell their children about their status as early as possible, but many refuse to do so because of guilt and fear they will be blamed for their children’s plight.

As a result, a number of children born with the virus are now young adults in sexual relationships who are not aware that they are HIV positive. Some are taking antiretroviral (ARV) medication, but are told the medication is for other ailments.

Some HIV positive children are allegedly told they have to take medication because they have heart a problem, low blood pressure or other chronic health conditions. As the children grow older and wiser, some parents allegedly resort to removing medication from their original packets and put them in different containers, just to conceal the truth.

As a result, many of these children go through their teens and eventually adulthood without knowing their status, Shiyagaya pointed out.

This has resulted in these young adults unknowingly infecting their partners with HIV.

“I know someone who is 17 years old now. She was born HIV positive. Both her parents passed away, but her guardian keeps telling her that she has low blood pressure and that is why she is on medication,” a relative of an infected teen told New Era.

“But the problem is that she has already started to date boys and this is really dangerous. The family’s predicament is, who will break the news to her about her status as no one of us is comfortable to do so.”

Recently New Era published a story of an 18-year-old girl who had to learn about her HIV status from her elder sister, in a cruel manner.

The sister allegedly snapped and told her about her status in front of her (younger sister’s) boyfriend.
The two girls are among many who are unware that they were born with the virus.

Shiyagaya said an HIV positive child is supposed to be made aware of the condition while he or she is as young as five years old. That way the child tends to accept the status and live a positive life.

“Information is supposed to be given to a child in portions at different stages, as the child grows. And children that grow knowing their status, take medication properly.

That is why most of the time you realise the viral load of children that know they are HIV positive is suppressed, because they are committed to taking medication.

“Some the people that were born with the virus are adults now. Some of them are married and or they have children of their own. But if one is well aware of his or her status they take informed decisions,” Shiyagaya concluded.

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