Turning The Tide: Addressing needs of children affected by TB, HIV and malaria

At the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) in Washington DC, the Regional Inter-Agency Task Force on Children and AIDS of eastern and southern Africa (RIATT-ESA) argued that children affected by AIDS also have rights to essential services but HIV often threatens their access to services. This is so because it impoverishes families and reduces the parents' ability to care for their children as they would have wished otherwise. Children become more vulnerable to adverse HIV related impact because adults often fail to behave responsibly despite so much of investment and efforts to sensitize adults on preventing transmission, stigma, discrimination among other impacts of HIV. The response to meet the HIV related treatment, care and support needs of children is appalling and urgently require strategic interventions that cater for early childhood, pre-school age and teenage ages.

To this effect, RIATT-ESA has started a unique, multi-sectoral partnership of organizations to mobilize adequate response to the care and support needs of children affected by AIDS in eastern and southern Africa. Formed in 2006 by regional political, economic, civil society, academic, donor and UN institutions, it works to support the UNGASS declaration of commitment to the universal access of children to HIV prevention, care, treatment and support.

RIATT-ESA's chairperson is Noreen Huni, who is also the Executive Director of the Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI) based in South Africa, said that RIATT-ESA is not only looking at studies and policy interventions, but also promoting better understanding of, and approaches to, child participation by disseminating strategic messages.

“Making decisions about how to improve children’s wellbeing requires listening to children’s opinions and supporting their efforts to participate,” she said. "RIATT-ESA would like to congratulate South Sudan on its national commitments to protecting children" added Noreen.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has partnered with RIATT-ESA to scale up pediatric HIV, TB and malaria continuum of care in the SADC region. It recognizes that although countries in the SADC region are highly committed and have achieved major successes in fighting HIV, TB and malaria, many of the achievements have primarily focused on adults.

“While HIV, TB and malaria are all entirely preventable, thousands of children, and their families are affected by or die as a result of these communicable diseases in the southern African region. In serving the rights of children in the SADC region to receive equal access to quality health services, SADC aims to contribute to efforts to meet Millennium Development Goals 4,5 and 6 and hence, accelerate child survival in the region through harmonization and rationalization of resources in the implementation and attainment of health objectives in the region,” says the Secretariat.

The partnership supports the principle of full disclosure by those infected or affected by HIV. One of the beneficiaries through one of RIATT-ESA partners, Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Information DisseminationServices (SAfAIDS), is 17 year old Limpo (not real name). "…at the hospital, I had several tests done and I discovered that I was HIV positive. I was 15 years old at the time. The nurses suggested that I get a CD4 count test and I found that my CD4 was down to 20, which is very low. I started taking ARVs the way I had been instructed (and) made a big improvement to my health. Today, I am fit and healthy and my CD4 count is now 349. My grandmother and sister are pleased with the progress I am making.”

Other partners in RIATT-ESA are UNICEF, Eastern AfricaNational Network of AIDS Service Organizations (EANNASO), Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division (HEARD), HelpAge International, Hope Worldwide, Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and Save the Children. The rest are Swedish International Cooperating Agency (SIDA), UK Department for International Development (DfID) and World Vision International.

Henry Kabwe - CNS
(The author is a noted Zambian journalist and serves as the Executive Director of the Media Network on Child Rights and Development (MNCRD). He has earlier worked with The Monitor and the National Mirror in Lusaka specializing in child rights, HIV, health, environment and human rights. He has also worked as a Correspondent for the Voice of America (VOA). He is the former Chairperson of the Zambian Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa - MISA)