As World AIDS Day, the annual event to raise awareness of the global epidemic, turns 31, the United Nations Children’s Fund has warned that not all children are so lucky.
The organization said children are dying at the rate of 320 per day around the world and about half of them are not in treatment. Those are alarming statistics, because with early intervention and treatment HIV-positive patients can live long, healthy lives.
Dr. Chewe Luo, who heads UNICEF’s HIV/AIDS section, said health care providers need to treat HIV as a family matter. “Children are falling behind the treatment drive globally,” she told VOA. “And today we’re talking about 54% of children accessing treatment, about half of children are accessing treatment.
“Mortality in this age group is still high. … But there’s also the aspect, that, if we are treating adults, we need to change the way we deliver services. For every adult that’s really accessing treatment, are we really asking about the children?”
And the fight is about more than just medicine, says Nompumelelo Madonsela, who works with young people in Johannesburg for a health care organization focused on HIV and AIDS. She spends her days tracking down youth who may have defaulted on their treatment. Even in 2019, she says, youth awareness is an issue.
“People think that ‘once I get tested, I’ll know the status, and if I am positive, then I’ll just die,’” she said. “’So if I don’t know, I’m not going to die.’ So I think it’s about, to them, what you don’t know won’t kill you.
Twenty-year-old Johanna Mogotsi, who was born with the virus and abandoned as a baby at the hospice, only started treatment last year when her white-cell count dipped below a certain point. She says she’s grateful to the doctors, nurses and social workers in her life. But, she says, the people who helped her most in her journey were her peers.
“They made me understand that it’s not the end of the world when you drink medication,” she said. “They actually reminded me to take my pills every day. They told me everything about their experiences through HIV and AIDS. For me, it was nothing serious, because I thought it was something that can be cured, knowing that they are taking the medications and they’re still healthy.”