We’ve all had a runny nose and sore throat at one time or other. But imagine dealing with it every day. The lucky ones get back on their feet quickly. But many have to deal with aches and pains on a daily basis. Like young people who are affected by HIV/AIDS.
But stop! Before you let images of sick kids lying in bed alone and helpless swamp you, there are some children who don’t take things lying down despite the fact that they know that HIV/AIDS can make people, especially children, very sick indeed, and could even be fatal.
Meet 14-year-old Susantha who accepted the doctor’s diagnosis that he was HIV-positive quietly. He attended school as usual, determined to do well. He says: “I didn’t feel very bad or afraid about it. I had to accept the situation and took it up as a challenge. I was aware of HIV and AIDS even before I was infected.”
All was well until people got to know. The discrimination was unbearable, but Susantha knew that getting mad wouldn’t help things. So he decided to get even. He loved films and resolved to use them to tell people more about HIV/AIDS. With World Vision, a humanitarian charitable organisation that works with children and families living in poverty, he made two telling films on the issue.
Making Ends Meet is about the available anti-retroviral treatment (ART) options; Hangninglee Thamoisina (‘Questions my heart desires to ask’), about a girl born HIV-positive, is awaiting release.
Susantha believes that people relate best to films and are able to grasp the issue and the situation of people living with HIV/AIDS. Busy with homework and filmmaking, his days are full.
No geography book mentions Bhandra Sindri, situated along National Highway No 8, where children are routinely sent out to work in the cities. “Chetna is my best friend but I don’t know where she is now. I miss her so much,” says Nisha. “I’m the only one among my friends left in the village.” She has written a few lines to her friends whom she might never see again.
Mala, Nisha’s mother, currently a member of the World Vision self-help group, promised to protect her daughter from exploitation. Today, Nisha is a ‘peer advocate’ in her community. She talks to children in her age-group, making them aware of the dangers they could be exposed to. She also motivates them to study and break the cycle of poverty.
World Vision India has developed a Guiding Minds Programme that Nisha uses to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS among girls of her age. She gathers them together and explains issues like trafficking, abuse, and exploitation. She is a regular at school and serves as an excellent role model for the other children.
Children are often considered the missing face of the AIDS/HIV epidemic. In 2005, Unicef, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and other partners launched Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS to focus attention and resources on mitigating the worst effects of HIV and AIDS on children and young people. The Unite for Children report (http://www.uniteforchildren.org/files/4thStocktakingSummary_Nov13_20091.pdf) says: ‘School attendance is a protective factor against HIV especially for vulnerable girls, and an effective platform in which to raise HIV-related knowledge, attitudes and skills, contributing to overall behaviour change.’
But young people with HIV/AIDS are often not accepted into schools and are treated badly. That’s because of certain misconceptions. Some examples: people believe they can become infected simply by looking at an HIV-positive person; that the disease spreads through touch, so if they sit on a chair used by an HIV-positive person they will be infected; that all HIV-positive people die quickly; that they are stupid and can’t be taught anything.
But you know better don’t you? Tell people what the World Health Organisation (WHO) wants everyone to know: that HIV can be controlled through medicines, though we don’t have a vaccine or permanent cure for it; that people do die, but not necessarily the very next day or week; that it spreads through the exchange of body fluids, infected blood, and dirty needles, not through things, or by touch; that people infected with HIV need love like everyone else, so hugging them is good for all involved; that an infected person’s body may be sick but his mind is okay (if they can’t add, it’s probably because they don’t like math!). Understand what AIDS is all about so that you become better acquainted with the complications associated with it.
How does HIV work?
The World Vision School Programme explains how HIV works.
Your body is protected by an immune system made up of white blood cells. White blood cells help fight disease and germs. HIV is a very strong germ that attacks the white blood cells themselves. After a long struggle, lasting years, HIV kills most of the white blood cells, leaving the body unprotected. That’s when infections set in and AIDS develops. AIDS is short for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome; HIV is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus that causes AIDS. Log onto http://www.avert.org/treatment.htm for more information.
Have questions? Look up BAM! at http://www.bam.gov/. This online magazine, aimed at young people between the ages of nine and 13, offers a wealth of credible health information. Watch how white blood cells work to make your body stronger and fight disease.
Explain the different aspects of this to a younger sibling. Use the GoodQuest challenge game at www.elfisland.com.
Want to test your HIV knowledge? Play the http://www.avert.org/hiv-aids-game.htm at the Avert site and see how you score.
As Nelao, 21, from Namibia writes on the Unicef Voices of Youth page: “A number of us live life because life is life and we have to live. But let’s live life because we have future dreams; let’s live life based on a mission and a vision of living.” Be a part of this desire for life. Don’t let this global epidemic get the better of us.
(Paromita Pain is a senior reporter and sub-editor with The Hindu and its feature supplements Young World and NXg)
Infochange News & Features, April 2010