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NACOSA Addresses State of HIV in Children in South Africa: Prevention, Treatment, and Care Strategies

NACOSA supports the Global Alliance’s mission to end AIDS in Children by 2030. The Global Alliance to end AIDS it is a commitment signed by 12 countries, including South Africa, aimed at ending AIDS in children by 2030 through a strong, strategic and action-oriented alliance of multisectoral stakeholders at national, regional and global levels.

HIV is still a critical issue in South Africa, about 270 000 children aged 0 –14 were living with HIV, 10 000 became newly infected and 2800 died from AIDS in 2001. According to research from the UCT children Institute, many children are HIV positive or have become ill and died from AIDS.  the majority of HIV-positive children are infected before and during birth, whereas others become infected later through nursing.

NACOSA emphasises the importance of preventing the passing of HIV from a mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding (vertical transmission). “It is in the best interest of the child that parents protect their children from mother to child transmission of HIV.” Says Colleen Wagner, NACOSA’s Catalytic Grant Manager who is also a midwife and nursing sister.

Testing for HIV is crucial when planning for pregnancy. If HIV-negative, consider taking PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) throughout the pregnancy and breastfeeding period. Regular retesting and consistent use of condoms during these periods are essential. “Primary caregivers must know the HIV status of the child, and clinicians must check this status during routine health visits.”  Wagner emphasises

Only 50% of young mothers admitted to having tested for HIV before they became pregnant at a recent workshop we held with teenage mothers. Teenage pregnancy is a major contributing factor to HIV transmission. Preventing early pregnancy and supporting young mothers is an important part of the strategy to end AIDS in children. “Lack of knowledge and information about family planning and preventing pregnancy led me to being pregnant”. Said a teenage mother

“It takes a village! Let’s prioritise the health of our children,” urges NACOSA. The organisation advocates for the involvement of parents and communities in creating a supportive environment for young mothers, families and children affected by HIV.  “I faced discrimination both at school and at home,” says Priscilla Mokwala, a teenage mother. “Friends were gossiping about me at school, and my father chased me out of the house when he found out I was pregnant.”

“Children with HIV can live a good quality life with ART treatment.” Says Wagner “It’s important for mothers to consistently take their antiretroviral therapy (ART) medications.” This helps them keep the virus under control and keeps their children safe.  If someone is on ART and the virus is undetectable, they cannot pass HIV on to their children during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

NACOSA believes that investing in children’s health has long-term advantages. Protecting children from discrimination and creating a safer, more just environment in which they can develop without fear of bias is critical.

NACOSA calls on society to ensure equality for children, stating, “Ensuring equality for children is not just a responsibility of guardians but of society as a whole.” The organisation also highlights the importance of talking openly about HIV status with children to remove stigma and shame. “Knowing your child’s status means that you can protect and care for them better.” Concludes Wagner.

It’s crucial to prevent HIV transmission from mothers to children, encourage regular testing to know every child’s HIV status, and ensure HIV-positive children receive proper antiretroviral therapy (ART) for a good quality of life. Investing in children’s health, involving fathers, and creating a supportive, discrimination-free environment are key parts of providing comprehensive care and support Ultimately, society must prioritise the protection of children today to secure a healthier and more productive future.

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