Today is the 25th world AIDS day.
Things have changed since the first World Aids Day recognised 25 years ago – infection rates are dropping across the world despite initial predications that the epidemic would overwhelm entire regions.
Treatment is now available worldwide despite fears that poor countries would never be able to afford access. And now, the almost unimaginable, there is even discussion about an AIDS-free generation and the beginning of the end of AIDS.
For the women and children we work with thinking about AIDS is not a once a year occurrence – it is a pervasive force that has taken a grip on their everyday lives.
The women’s groups we work with estimate that the 80% of the households in the slums areas they live in practice sex work and domestic violence is rife.
Most of the children we work with have been born with HIV (they acquired the infection from their mothers during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding) though there us also a small number were infected when they were raped as very young children.
From a baseline survey we conducted at the beginning of the year we estimate that 25% of households had at least one child living positively – well above the official estimated national rate for Uganda.
Whilst there are ways to reduce the likelihood of mother to child transmission to as little as 2%, such interventions are still not widely accessible for resource limited households – and the social pressure, especially on women, to hide that they are infected or face possible violence is immense.
The daily battle faced by the children we work with is mind blowing – many are on ARV medication which they must take 2-3 times a day. If their meds aren’t taken with food they make you sick, cause a lot of pain and, potentially, long-term damage.
Sadly, most of the children we work with face these effects daily –they are lucky if they get one meal a day as their parent or guardian’s income is less than 0.75p a day.
According to WHO, the failure to support effective and acceptable HIV services for adolescents has resulted in a 50% increase in reported AIDS-related deaths in this group compared with the 30% decline seen in the general population from 2005 to 2012.
Today we remember the children we have lost – some of whom have lived and died without any record of their existence ever being recorded – and the children that battle the effects of HIV everyday in the slums of Kampala – we need to see progress in prioritising, planning and providing HIV testing, counselling and care services for children and adolescents NOW.