The Challenges of children living with HIV

Ministry of Health, Thimphu

DEKI CHODEN

Thimphu
A 20-year-old, Tashi Dema (Name Changed) tested positive for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) at the age of six, almost 15 years ago. However, she is married and living a happy life with her husband today.

She contracted the virus through mother-to-child transmission. She tested positive in 2008. Tashi recalls learning about HIV for the first time from the infographics in the school. She also shared with her friends about herself having tested positive for HIV.

She started to face stigma when her friends started avoiding her. Friends refrained from being around her in school. In one of the parent-teacher meetings in the school, some of the parents raised the dangers of Tashi spreading the virus to other children in the school. This forced the young Tashi to leave the school.

Tashi Dema said, initially, although all the students in the school were aware of her being HIV positive, she was not bothered because she was too young then. “I was also not aware that I had contracted the virus from my mother.”

She said that even the people in the village refused to talk and the relatives kept separate mugs and plates for her. “However, the Lhaksam’s support made it possible for me to live a normal life like others.”

“We can also live a normal life like others if we take medicines and get timely medications. People should support the children living with HIV rather than stigmatising them,” Tashi Dema said.

Meanwhile, the country today has 835 HIV-positive cases until June this year since 1993, of which 433- 52 percent were male and 402- 48 percent were women. 

The mother-to-child transmission case was first detected in 2002. One hundred and thirty-nine mothers tested positive for HIV. Of the 139 mothers, 42 mother-to-child transmission cases were detected.

The Ministry of Health’s (MoH) national HIV, AIDs and STI control programme’s programme manager under the department of public health, Lekey Khandu, said the ministry conducted preventative measures through advocacies such as PMTCT in 2006. 

He said that some of the mother-to-child transmission cases were detected before the introduction of the PMTCT, especially those who did not avail of those services and were already pregnant.

He said the pregnant mothers usually got only one round of HIV check-ups which failed to detect the virus from 2006 to 2007 while some of the children contracted the virus during breastfeeding.

Lhaksam’s Executive Director, Wangda Dorji, said of the 42 mother-to-child transmission cases in the country, 23 were registered with the Lhaksam, adding that they provide them with advocacy and awareness programmes on the medication to deal with stereotypes.

He said such programmes would encourage the children with HIV to build confidence and guide them on the medication procedures, adding that the Lhaksam also supported the stationery and other necessary items for those children since 2011.

Lekey Khandu said although there is no financial support from the government as of now, the VCT focal persons are stationed in all the dzongkhags to support the people with free consultation, medication and testing facilities.
Lekey Khandu said HIV is not a disease which is transmitted from just sitting next to each other but the people with HIV have to face social stigma. “However, the pre-validation assessment will curve the mother-to-child transmission by 2030.” 

This story is published with funding support from Bhutan Media Foundation

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