In Uganda, approximately 96,000 children under the age of 14 are HIV-positive. Sarah is one of them. My colleague Christine Ennulat met 9-year-old Sarah (not her real name, to protect her privacy) during a visit earlier this year to Gulu, Uganda. The meeting was emotionally overwhelming, because Sarah wasn’t eating enough nutritious food for her antiretroviral medications to take effect. The little girl, who had lost her parents and a younger sister to the disease, was in the care of her grandmother, Irene, who makes a living by selling small fish in the market. They were eating one meal a day.
This is just one facet of the complex HIV/AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. Antiretroviral medications can prevent pregnant women from passing on the virus to their unborn children, and they help keep positive children healthier. But only if they have access to these medications, and only if they have healthy food and clean water. ChildFund and others are working to reach the United Nations’ goal to end HIV infections by 2030, but it is an uphill battle, even in places like Gulu, where there is help for families.
Sarah’s family is one of many that benefit from ChildFund’s USAID-funded project, Deinstitutionalization of Orphans and Vulnerable Children in Uganda (DOVCU). Their roof was repaired, and her brother has received carpentry training. Irene was able to purchase a pair of geese. But there are many children in similar situations as Sarah. Some succeed and flourish, while others continue to struggle. At least Sarah is still smiling.