By Kate Andrews, with reporting by Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India, and ChildFund Kenya staff
The first World AIDS Day was held in 1988, and a great number of medical and social advances have been made in the 24 years since then. Nevertheless, much remains to be done. Today, we turn our focus to ChildFund’s work in India and Africa.
Rajashri is a supervisor for the Link Workers Scheme (LWS), a program in India that helps children orphaned by AIDS and some who are HIV-positive. She provides medication for hundreds of children infected with the disease in 19 districts of Andhra Pradesh, a central Indian province with a population of about 76 million. Started in 2008 by the national and regional governments with help from ChildFund India, LWS targets high-risk groups with prevention and risk-reduction information.
ChildFund India has identified more than 7,400 children in Andhra Pradesh who have been orphaned or left otherwise vulnerable by AIDS or HIV.
Although African nations often receive the most attention when the topic of AIDS arises, India has approximately 2.4 million people living with HIV, the third-highest population in the world, based on a 2009 estimate by UNAIDS. According to the Indian government, the state of Andhra Pradesh reported the second-highest HIV rate in the nation.
The LWS program, which ChildFund supports, began in three districts in Andhra Pradesh in 2008, reaching 19 districts in 2011. About 23,000 volunteers have been engaged in this effort, and more than 11,600 HIV-positive patients have been identified and helped by the state’s health department.
ChildFund also is working in African countries to help prevent the spread of AIDS. In Ethiopia, we work with children, youth, parents and community leaders to provide HIV and AIDS prevention and testing interventions as well as make available social networks to counter stigma and discrimination.
Through our Strengthening Community Safety Nets program in the Addis Ababa and Oromia areas, 50,000 orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV and AIDS have received family-centered care and support. The program builds on existing partnerships with community groups and local volunteers to build the resilience of families and community structures to support children affected by HIV, especially those under age 11.
In Kenya, where an estimated 1.2 million people are infected with HIV (the same number as the far more populous United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), a ChildFund program has helped connect HIV-positive and other vulnerable children to organizations that offer anti-retroviral treatment and social assistance.
The number of vulnerable children attending school and receiving health care has risen since the 2005 institution of Weaving the Safety Net, part of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Today, that program has concluded, but ChildFund’s work with orphans and vulnerable children impacted by HIV and AIDS continues. As of spring 2012, more than 73,000 orphans and vulnerable children were being served in Nairobi, and 3,200 HIV-positive children were enrolled in support groups.
Lucy, a 9-year-old who is HIV-positive, lives in Lamu, an island off the coast of Kenya. She, her grandmother, her aunt and four cousins share a one-room thatched home. When Lucy was a baby, her mother died from AIDS complications. Their village had few resources to deal with the disease, but now, with ChildFund’s support, Lucy goes to a district hospital to receive anti-retroviral treatment. She is healthy and thriving at school.
At age 8, Lucy started attending a support group for children living with HIV. “I know my status, and that is why I take my medicine, so that I can remain strong to be able to go to school and also play like the other children,” Lucy says. “My teacher and some neighbors know my status, too, and I know they love and support me.”
A side benefit of ChildFund’s and others’ work in Kenya has been a greater acceptance of those affected by HIV, lessening the stigma of the disease.
“When I was requested to enroll her in a support group, I hesitated, but today Lucy shares information about the support group discussions with all of us here,” her grandmother says. “Through her, we have learned a lot about HIV and AIDS.”