By Gatonye Gathura
Kenya: Many parents are not telling their HIV-infected children of their status, with some as old as 14 and possibly sexually active.
As more children today survive HIV and grow into adolescents, parents are finding it more difficult to reveal their condition, according to doctors at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, Eldoret.
The hospital, which hosts one of the largest HIV care programmes in the country, involving 55,000 adults and 15,000 children, studied 792 infected children and adolescents and found only about a quarter knew their status.
The hospital recommends that children be made aware of their HIV status at least by the time they are 10.
“But the decision to disclose is ultimately left to the child’s caregiver,” says the hospital.
The findings of the study, which were published in the journal, Plos One, on Thursday, tell of the dilemma of a child growing into an adolescent and becoming sexually active without knowing their HIV status.
The study was carried out among HIV-infected children aged six to 14, who were enrolled for care at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital and three other related clinics in Kitale, Turbo and Webuye.
Overall, only 26 per cent of the children had been told of their HIV status.
“While only nine per cent of six- to seven-year-olds knew their status, 33 per cent of 10- to 11-year-olds and 56 per cent of 13- to 14-year-olds reported knowing their status,” says the new study.
Almost half of the children, 48 per cent, were orphans while almost 80 per cent were on anti-retrovirals. Some 16 children were also taking anti-tuberculosis medication.
The study also brings to the fore the dilemma facing a parent who has to decide to disclose or not, with a significant number of them saying children who had been told of their status had experienced stigma and shown higher signs of depression compared to those who remained unaware.
Ten per cent of caregivers of disclosed children reported stigma and 12 per cent reported depression symptoms in their charges.
This is compared to only two per cent of non-disclosed children who reported stigma and four per cent who reported depression.
“Disclosure is a traumatic event for many children and can be accompanied by feelings of anger, hopelessness and rebellion, which may lead to temporary or longer-term medicine adherence problems,” says the study, which also involved a team from Indiana University in the US.