Or­phaned by AIDS

Vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren faced with range of chal­lenges

Jamaica Gleaner - - FRONT PAGE - Livern Bar­rett Se­nior Gleaner Writer livern.bar­rett@glean­erjm.com

MORE THAN three decades af­ter Ja­maica recorded its first AIDS case, one lo­cal group of med­i­cal ex­perts has es­ti­mated that more than 13,000 Jamaican chil­dren have been left or­phaned or vul­ner­a­ble to con­tract­ing the virus.

That fig­ure, ac­cord­ing to Dr Myr­ton Smith, pres­i­dent of the Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion of Ja­maica (MAJ), is based on data pub­lished by in­ter­na­tional groups such as the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion, the Pan-Amer­i­can Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion, and Ja­maica’s health min­istry.

“Back in 2006, they were re­port­ing that they have about 5,800 or­phans, but then, about 69 per cent of pa­tients they re­viewed died from HIV dur­ing that pe­riod, so quite a few of those who were vul­ner­a­ble then be­came or­phans,” Smith ex­plained.

Ja­maica recorded the first case of HIV/AIDS in 1982, and the MAJ es­ti­mates that ap­prox­i­mately 1.6 per cent of the coun­try’s adult pop­u­la­tion, or about 32,000 men and women, are liv­ing with the virus.

How­ever, the as­so­ci­a­tion said that 50 per cent of per­sons liv­ing with AIDS do not know that they are HIV-pos­i­tive. “This is an alarm­ing fig­ure and is likely linked to the con­tin­ued spread of the dis­ease,” the MAJ de­clared in a state­ment to mark World AIDS Day, which is be­ing cel­e­brated across the globe to­day. Pub­lic health con­sul­tant Au­drey Brown told The Gleaner yes­ter­day that Ja­maica recorded the first case of a child con­tract­ing HIV/AIDS in 1987, and said that this gave birth to the com­mu­nity for or­phans and vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren (OVCs). Not­ing that OVCs are ei­ther placed in state care or with rel­a­tives, Brown said they are faced with a range of is­sues that af­fect their well be­ing. “There is stigma and dis­crim­i­na­tion to­wards these chil­dren, and for a lot of them, there is the cost of care,” she said. One case worker with a lo­cal AIDS sup­port group told The Gleaner yes­ter­day that OVCs deal with other be­havioural is­sues such as drug ad­dic­tion, men­tal-health chal­lenges, and low self-es­teem. “Some have is­sues around their sex­u­al­ity, some are sui­ci­dal ... some of them turn to other cop­ing mech­a­nisms such as drugs, so we try to help them find so­lu­tions to their prob­lems,” said the case worker, who re­quested anonymity.

De­spite this, the MAJ pres­i­dent and Brown agreed that Ja­maica has made sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments in the way OVCs are treated.

“In terms of the clin­i­cal man­age­ment of the pa­tients, we are do­ing ex­tremely well and most chil­dren are be­ing main­tained in care on treat­ment. They are do­ing well,” Brown said.

Smith pointed to stud­ies that have shown that in most cases, young women who en­gage in trans­ac­tional sex and men who have sex with men were at greater risk of con­tract­ing HIV/AIDS and urged lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to main­tain the mes­sage of re­spon­si­ble sex­ual be­hav­iour.

“We must cel­e­brate the ad­vances that we have made as a na­tion, but if we are to win the fight, we must con­tinue to tar­get some crit­i­cal ar­eas,” the MAJ head said.

He said there should be no re­duc­tion in the avail­abil­ity of and ac­cess to an­tiretro­vi­ral drugs and that all Ja­maicans must con­tinue to sup­port the push to re­duce vi­o­lence against women, some­thing he ar­gued could re­sult in forced sex acts, which of­ten take place with­out a con­dom.

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