At the end of 2009, an estimated 2.5 million children were living with HIV, and 2.3 million of these were in sub-Saharan Africa. An estimated 1000 children are newly infected with HIV each day.
How do children get HIV?
1.) PERINATAL TRANSMISSION:
When conceiving a child there is a risk of the child being HIV positive if one, or both, of the parents is HIV positive.
Seminal fluid carries HIV and so if the father of the child is HIV positive the baby is also at risk of having HIV.
In developed countries ‘sperm washing’ is available, which concentrates and then separates sperm from the infected seminal fluid ready for IVF. The fertilised egg is then implanted into the woman’s uterus, protecting the mother and the child from contracting HIV from the HIV positive father. This technology is not widely available in developing countries.
Mothers who are HIV positive may pass the infection on to their children via several mechanisms:
1. During pregnancy: HIV can cross the placenta into the baby’s bloodstream
– if the woman takes ARVs during the pregnancy this risk is reduced.
2. During vaginal delivery
– the risk of transmission is reduced with Caesarean section.
3. Breastfeeding (breast milk contains HIV)
– not breast-feeding eliminates this risk
If an HIV positive mother does not take ARVs during pregnancy her risk of transmitting HIV to the baby is ~ 25%, this risk can be reduced to as little as 2% with appropriate interventions (described above).
Children can also contract HIV in the same ways that adults can (e.g. shared needles, sexual assault, etc.).
Here at LPK there are several HIV positive children, both orphans and children born to mothers on the program. Often the children are not able to progress to boarding school with their peers because they are too young to be able to take their ARV medications unsupervised. They are also at high risk of opportunistic infection due to the combination of malnutrition and HIV. These children also suffer discrimination, one young woman recounted that as a child the other children used to tease her and called her names because she had HIV.
Even children who are not HIV positive can be profoundly affected by the disease. HIV tears families apart, and many children lose both parents to HIV/AIDS and are then raised by relatives or in orphanages and foster homes.