A girl wears the HIV symbol during International aids candlelight day in Osh . Photo:

Rita Makaeva, program specialist for the UNDP / Global Fund project, tells in this blog how children living with HIV are surviving the difficult time of self-isolation and Covid-19.   

In the south of Kyrgyzstan, in the beginning of the 2000s, more than 400 children were infected with HIV in hospitals. These children now receive free treatment and support from the government and different organizations.

Children living with HIV are more vulnerable to Covid-19 because HIV infection decreases the immune system, and children can easily catch other infections including Covid-19 and TB. That’s why they need to self-isolate and to follow online schooling even more than other children. Respecting quarantine measures for them is a question of life and death. But isolation for children is not an easy thing, and can negatively impact their psychological health and immune system.

These children faced the same difficulties as others – a poor access to internet, absence of computers, tablets or smartphones and no network to continue school online. Many of these families have several children and each child does not have their own smartphone, which was a problem since online classes happened at the same time.

During the emergency state, children talked only with their relatives (parents, brothers and sisters for those who are lucky enough to have siblings). They were cut off from their routines and daily life, where after school they would play and run with friends outside. In these new conditions, it’s easier when children live in houses so that they can continue breathing fresh air and playing outside with their siblings, but it’s harder for those children who live in apartments and who have to spend all their time within “four walls”, watching the outside world from their window. 

A child with HIV learns to deal with stigma and self-stigma during the yearly summer camp organized by UNDP / Global Fund for children with HIV. Photo: UNDP Kyrgyzstan

Psychologically this also has consequences on children, who cannot spend all of their energy. A lot of them spend their time playing online games (those who have computers and/or smartphones), or watching TV all the time.

But I heard that many of these children discovered new talents and hobbies, and that at least is very good news:

-some children started reading more because they have poor access to internet;

-some children started cooking and helping their parents and grandparents;

-some children started spending more time with their younger siblings and got to better know them;

-some children started helping in the garden, planting and watering fruits and vegetables;

-some started drawing, knitting, making arts & crafts out of felt…

Of course, everyone wants to return to a normal life as soon as possible, as it was before quarantine and the Covid-19 pandemic. In these difficult times, our UNDP/ Global Fund project and its partners are adapting to new conditions and continue to support these children. For example, peer consultants and psychologists organize online meetings with the children to conduct consultations and talk with them, make sure that they are taking their treatment, know how they are doing, what they are keeping busy with, answer their questions and provide HIV education. Different organizations are also working together to help these families by providing food to those in need, because a healthy and balanced diet is an important factor to strengthen children’s immune systems. 

Posters in memory of people who have lost their life due to HIV for International Aids candlelight day in Osh. Photo:

Here are my recommendations for children living with HIV to protect them and reduce the risks of getting infected with Covid-19:

1.    Regularly and timely take ART treatment as prescribed by your doctor, and have a stock of medication for at least one month. If you need to get medication, you can contact your doctor or peer consultant for help.

2.    To continue the planned monitoring tests for virus load and CD4 count, contact your doctor to agree on a time of visit. 

3.    Eat well, and include vegetables, fruits, meat, dairy products in your daily portion, taking the time to carefully clean fruits and vegetables and thoroughly cook meat.

4.    Regularly and correctly wash your hands with soap after going to the toilet, going outside and before eating. If it’s not possible then wash your hand with antiseptic spray (use at least 3ml).

5.    When you are in contact with surfaces that may be infected (where there are a lot of people in contact with the same surface) do not in any case touch your mucous membrane (eyes, nose, mouth etc) without previously washing your hands as indicated in point 3.  

6.    Keep a social distance when you go outside and especially in public places where there is a closed space with little ventilation and high humidity.

7.    Avoid hugs, kisses, and handshakes when meeting people, especially those who have flu symptoms.

8.    Regularly ventilate your room and house, clean and disinfect indoors.

9.    Take sun baths to strengthen your organism.

10. If you feel sick, seek immediate medical help and do not practice self-treatment. If you have to go outside, wear a mask and keep your distance from other people, so as not to infect anyone else.

11. Cough and sneeze into your elbow or into a disposable tissue. Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth before washing your hands.

I think it’s very important to understand how Covid-19 is transmitted, so that you can effectively protect yourself and your loved ones. It’s especially important to protect younger children, because it’s hard to forbid them to play with each other and to force them to respect sanitary prevention measures.

 

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