Meet Halima she is 13 years old and living with the HIV virus, she is on ART and she is not aware of her sero-positive status. She knows she has to take her daily dose of medicine without failure or she will get sick. She knows she is taking the medicines because she is allergic to cold and prone to getting chest infections. Her mother who is also living with the virus has not disclosed to Halima that they are both HIV positive she fears she will be stigmatized in school and in the community. Besides if she tells her, Halima could easily spill the beans to family members, neighbors and friends. Her mother thinks that it is best to let things as they are and that she will know with time especially when she is old enough to understand
Then there is Njoroge, he is an orphan and a post election violence victim. He lives with other children like him with a Good Samaritan in Rongai. He is eight years old and he is not aware that he has the virus. He was emaciated when his guardian found him. He knows he has to take his medicines to the later or he will have a bad cough, and it hurts so badly when he coughs. Once he had a skin rash which healed but since then the other children have been keeping away from his clothes. An older child (Martin) who takes care of him ensures that he always has his medicine and will abscond from class to get Njoroge his medicine. Martin says that no one has ever disclosed to Njoroge about his status and though he knows it is necessary to he says it is not up to him to tell Njoroge.
Lastly, there is Akinyi, she is just 14, and she sat for her Kenya Certificate of primary Education last year and score marks good enough to take her to a district school. Unfortunately, she is an orphan and has no one to see her through school, and that is why she came to Nairobi to work as a house help. Maybe just maybe, she will be able to assist her siblings. She plans to save enough to undertake a training preferably tailoring or dressmaking. She has been taking her medicine without which she was told she would die. She was told to go to any health facility to replenish her medicines without fail and she needs only carry her card. She is not aware of her HIV status and has very strong feelings about HIV. She claims she cannot have HIV because she is a virgin and has never had sex.
These three children are among the 180,000 who are living with HIV in Kenya and among the 40,000 who are on ART. Most of them were born with the virus and are yet to know that they are HIV positive. Non disclosure to children can be very harmful as it can shatter a child’s emotional and physical health besides increasing self stigma. Besides children who find out of their status later in life are most likely to internalize stigma and feel betrayed and can experience trauma and depression
Children have a right to appropriate information about their HIV status and should not be the last ones to know that they are living with the virus. According to Human Rights Watch the best age to start disclosing to children is at the age of six years and it should be done in a supportive manner and ongoing counseling especially about prevention should continue even as they grow older to assist them in coping with the condition. Efforts should be made to ensure proper guidelines on how to counsel and disclose to minors are set up. Parents like Halima’s Mum who feel guilty that they infected their children should also undergo counseling to help them cope with these feelings. Those who try to protect from their children from themselves and the community or desire to give their children a normal life should realize that disclosing is the first step towards protecting them from the community and themselves.