Special treat for HIV-positive teens

Youngsters given advice on how to approach illness and live a normal life

HIV-positive teenagers were encouraged to forge new friendships and live their lives to the fullest at a party held at Dora Nginza Hospital yesterday.

Youngsters between the ages of 12 and 15 attended the party hosted by Dora Nginza Paediatric Wellness clinic staff with help from the Ubuntu Education Fund.

The party was sponsored by Enviroserv Waste Management, which provided the food and gifts.

More than 30 children affected by the virus had broad smiles as they interacted with others who understood what it was like to be affected by the disease.

They received advice from two speakers living with HIV who were leading happy, normal lives.

The speakers, who gave their names only as Bulela and Zandi, told how to overcome the struggle of living with HIV.

Bulela, 19, who contracted the virus at birth, said she had only found out about her status when she was 14.

“I was a very outspoken person, and making friends was fairly easy for me, but after I found out I spent a whole month at home,” she said.

“I eventually decided to go out and face the world because that was not the life I wanted to live.

“I went for counselling at [the] Ubuntu [Centre] and I then told two of my friends and, gradually, it has become easier since then.”

Bulela said that at first it had been difficult to accept, but as time went by, she grew used to it by talking to her mother.

“Many of them [teenagers] have to first accept themselves and they should remember that it is their lives,” she said.

“Parents should also teach their children about the world out there and not just let them go and experiment with things, because that is usually when trouble happens.”

Host Dr Lisa Horak said having HIV could be very lonely and isolating for some children, and many of them might not know other children who also had the virus.

There were about 2 700 children on HIV treatment (antiretrovirals) in the Bay, with the paediatric wellness clinic treating about 400 of them at Dora Nginza.

Horak said there were also other clinics that treated children

“I’ve met children in the clinic who do not know other children with HIV, and I wanted them to know they were not alone,” she said.

“Many of these children do not tell their friends. It’s a very big secret for them to keep.”

Other difficulties were the correct use of medication, and also, if they were in relationships, how to tell their partners about their status. “One of the big difficulties among younger children is adhering to treatment,” she said.

“Young children who are well with HIV have to take three separate medicines twice a day, and usually have additional medicines to take on top of that.

“It is a challenge to get them to have these medicines every single day and [depends] heavily on the children having a reliable carer.

“Not adhering to treatment for HIV and TB is the biggest problem we face and we need the community to support patients in taking their treatment.

“If the children take their treatment well they can live a full and normal life,” she said.

Enviroserv Waste Management brand manager AnneMarie du Plessis said they were involved in many projects in the areas in which the company operated.

“I think the sisters are doing a wonderful job in caring for these children, because it cannot be easy for them to do this each and every day,” she said.

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