CHARES: A beacon for the affected
THE CENTRE for HIV/AIDS Research, Education, and Services (CHARES) is a not-for-profit organisation that has been providing for the needs of persons living with HIV/AIDS for more than 14 years.
Over the years the organisation has been responsive to demands created by HIV/AIDS, one of which is the plight of children who are infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.
CHARES, with the support of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), started a programme for orphans and other children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS (OVCS) in December 2002.
PROGRAMME FOR CHILDREN LIVING WITH HIV/AIDS
Support group for children infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.
Home-based care training programmes conducted for professionals and volunteers involved in the provision of care for children infected by HIV.
Parenting-skills training programme conducted with parents of affected and infected children.
The two groups of children targeted for intervention include:
Children affected by HIV/AIDS who are living at home with parents who have the disease (HIV/AIDS) and have shown and expressed difficulties in coping with parents' sero-positive status and/or death. It is evident, through our work, that there exists within some of these families communication problems, misinformed sex education, disrespect and many other related problems, which further exacerbate the challenges that the adolescents face in adjusting to their parent(s) HIV-positive status and/or death.
Many children born with HIV are now approaching their pre-teens and teens and are desperately in need of psycho-social support. The challenges experienced by this group are further intensified by the disclosure of their own sero-positive status. These adolescents need to learn to be responsible for their sexual behaviour, physical and psychological health, and be able to cope with the disease and inter/intra family relationships.
The facilitation of the above programmes will impact the OVCS by improving their overall psycho-social care, the skills of caregivers who provide care, and improvement of parent to child communications.
PROFILE OF BENEFICIARIES
25 children between the ages of 8-16 who are either infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS.
Gender distribution seven boys and 18 girls.
Of this group, 19 children are infected with HIV.
The six affected children live with parents or other family members.
Of the 19 infected children, five live with parents/caregivers and 14 live at (orphanages) (institutions)
The beneficiaries are mainly from the lower-income strata where 95 per cent of the parents are either unemployed or underemployed.
As an organisation involved in working with children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS, CHARES faces a number of challenges. These include:
Sustaining the programme, which is constantly dependent on funding from external sources.
Insufficient social support services to facilitate referrals (e.g., homes for HIV-infected adolescents in crisis, assistance for orphans with schooling, expeditious assistance at public child guidance facilities).
Although we believe that great progress has been made in providing for treatment of HIV through the Global Fund support, there are many gaps in the treatment and care of OVCS, for instance:
There needs to be more programmes specifically targeting the OVCS and attending to their psychological needs.
The capacity of the various social service agencies needs to be built to enable an effective response to the needs of OVCS.
The greatest needs for OVCS are:
Assistance with medication for opportunistic infections.
Homes for adolescents infected by HIV.
Special programme to help integrate OVCS in institutions in the wider society, there are several reasons why the needs of the children remain unmet.
Many schools are refusing to enrol HIV-positive children into their programme.
Some schools are insisting that affected children be tested before admittance or readmittance in the programme.
Inability to afford expensive medication to treat opportunistic infections and there are no facilities in place to assist with this need.
There are no orphanages
/homes for adolescents who become HIV-positive and are not able to stay in their homes.
With the support of the Government with anti-retroviral drugs we have been seeing and will continue to see more relatively healthy OVCS attain adulthood. If they are to become productive members of society, however, all the necessary resources in terms of education and training will need to be available to help. Also, society must allow them to achieve their goals by being supportive and not discriminatory.
The public can assist in making life easier for OVCs by:
Educating yourselves about the HIV/AIDS disease
Become involved in and support agencies and families that care for OVCS.
Do not support institutions that practise discriminatory acts against OVCs.
Contributed by the Centre for HIV/AIDS Research, Education, and Services (CHARES)