Talking to children about HIV

By Drum Digital
04 November 2011

When she gave birth to her son, Phumelele Dlamini was only 21 years old. Not only did she have to cope with having a newborn baby but a few months later she discovered she had HIV. 

Her son, Vusi*, also tested positive and she was advised by hospital staff to wait until he was at least nine years old before she told him his status.

Phumelele decided to take their advice. “I thought it would be better to keep quiet – that way no one would ask questions and I would not have to face the truth,” she says.

But as time passed, Phumelele didn’t say anything. Then, when Vusi was 11 he figured out by himself that the medication he took every day were ARVs and that he was HIV-positive.

Phumelele was caught off-guard and today, six years later, she still feels guilty about how she handled the situation.

Telling your child they have HIV is complicated and difficult but keeping quiet about their status can make matters worse.

Phumlani Mngomezulu from Yezingane Network, which coordinates civil society action around children, HIV and Aids, says parents who are HIV-positive need to come to terms with their own status first and then find a way to tell their children theirs.

She says when parents avoid telling their children the truth, others may tell them and this is not ideal. It can also confuse them and increase their fears about their future health.

Midrand-based clinical psychologist Nthabiseng Mabena says parents must be prepared to answer their children’s questions a lot earlier especially if they’re taking ARVs which improve the survival rate of adults and children.

When parents break the news to their child, they’re less likely to paint a bleak picture and they can face the uncertainties about their future together, says Nthabiseng.

“Parents are often in denial and this can really increase the child’s feelings of rejection,” she warns.

“These children often have to deal with the guilt and shame of circumstances for which they were not responsible,” says Nthabiseng, who points out the needs of every child and family are different.

WHERE TO GET HELP

Aids Helpline

0800-012-322

Yezingane Network: Coordinating Civil Society Action on Children, HIV and Aids  

031-307-6075

e-mail: yezingane@crc-sa.co.za

website: www.crc-sa.co.za/yezingane

LoveLife 

0800-121-900       (youth line)

0800-121-100       (parent line)

website: www.lovelife.org.za

Read the full article in DRUM, 10 November 2011.

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