Still, today, 75% of children who need HIV treatment are not getting it. And so access to treatment for children continues to be a necessary central focus of organizations like KCA.
How is this still the case? The answer is a mix of complex barriers that get in the way of a child and treatment.
Pediatric HIV programs have, for the most part, been clinically focused, modeled on adult treatment programs. But with children the needs go way beyond the clinical, and there is no one quick fix.
For instance, we know that HIV medicines are hard to give to kids. They taste really nasty, and doses change as a child grows. We know that health care workers are often afraid to treat kids because they haven’t been trained for it. We know, painfully, that many children are infected as a result of sexual abuse, and witness the resulting challenges and heartbreak. We recognize the intense stigma associated with having an HIV positive child, the blame and shame that deters mothers from coming forward for help.
Understanding the issues that keep children out of treatment we have been able to put programs in place to address the situation.
We work with the local community to identify children most at risk, get them tested and immediately onto treatment.
We extend our programs to the whole family, to give kids the long-term support structure necessary to grow up happy and healthy. We make sure mothers and care-givers are themselves receiving the treatment they need. We provide income-generating opportunities, so that families can provide for their children, and help with the basics such as access to good food and an education. And the care follows the families into their communities, with home visits and peer support groups.
Importantly, we make kids feel at ‘home’ at our clinics. It sounds ridiculously simple, but it makes a huge difference. When a child, a family, is comfortable and knows that someone is listening and cares, they come back and stay on treatment.
It’s a powerful thing to witness the effectiveness of these programs. And it drives us in our commitment to saving the lives of as many children as possible, giving them the chance of the future they deserve.