World AIDS Day: Young HIV patients are the best teachers

Taking medicine is routine for young HIV patientsWorld AIDS Day logo

Many mothers will tell you how hard it is to get their young children to take medicine. For young patients with HIV at CFCA’s Dar es Salaam project in Tanzania, taking medicine is a matter of life and death.

When the patients from the Intensive Day Therapy program arrive at the project clinic at 6:30 a.m., Project Coordinator Mary Dawn Reavey has their medication measured and set out on the table. Young children swallow nine cups of liquid until they are old enough to take pills. At that point, they take six pills: an antiretroviral drug plus five supplements.

The 23 children range in age from 3 to 18 years and attend day school on the project grounds. They visit the clinic before leaving to take another round of medicine.

Children help each other

Reavey teaches the children to swallow pills at age 3.

“Liquid medicine is much more expensive and it is easy to counterfeit, so the goal is to switch the children to pills as early as possible,” she said.0508rachelscherzerch-4

The cost for antiretroviral tablets is $20 a month for one child, versus $100 for liquids.

Typical of children, they make a game out of taking their medicine.

“They have competitions to see who is the fastest to take their medicine and who can take the most pills at once,” Reavey said.

Success entails being firm, consistent and patient, and giving lots of positive reinforcement. Peer pressure helps, too. Though it can be hard for the young children, they are usually pros after a week.

“Often they are so sick when they arrive and they have been so stigmatized, that when they enter a community where all their friends also take medicine and are showered with love and care, they start feeling better in a few days and actually seem to appreciate the medicine,” Reavey said.

Patients spread message of hope and compassion

Every segment of the community has been impacted by HIV/AIDS, Reavey said. Family members, teachers, health-care workers and leaders have been lost to AIDS.

“We have a tremendous need for education and the promotion of hope and compassion,” Reavey said.

This is where the young patients help. They are the best teachers and advocates.

“We always have clusters of children coming for evaluation and often discover later that as one child enters the program and becomes well, other community members find the courage to also ask for help and bring their children and grandchildren out of seclusion to seek care,” she said.

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