Improving Psychosocial Support in Zambia, One Child at a Time
Dr. Susan Strasser
November 12, 2010
Last week, I had the opportunity to speak on Zambian television about an important but often overlooked issue – children living with HIV.
We at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation teamed up with Zambia’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MOHSW), UNICEF, and other partners in the country to participate in a thirteen-part talk show series, “Born Free of HIV.”
As a guest panelist on ZNBC, one of the most-watched national TV stations in Zambia, I participated in the series to highlight the Foundation’s work with the Africa Directions program, a local organization serving children and families living with HIV.
I was joined at the studio by one of the child mentors from Africa Directions, Sam Niyrenda
, to share our experiences providing psychosocial services to families affected by HIV. Pediatric counselors like Sam are essential to the care and support of HIV-positive children, helping them to live like any other child.
Sam knows personally the challenges of living with the virus – five years ago he learned that he was HIV-positive.
“Sharing my status to the children has really helped the children to understand me and to trust me,” he told us.
According to the MOHSW, 75,000 children are currently living with HIV in Zambia
. And while more are now receiving lifesaving treatment, many more still need to be reached. Without treatment, half of all HIV-positive children will die before their second birthdays. While these statistics can seem overwhelming, there is still hope.
The government of Zambia, along with its partners, is committed to reaching more HIV-positive pregnant women with the medicines needed to prevent their babies from being infected in the first place. We are also committed to reaching children living with HIV across the country, expanding pediatric care and treatment services and providing psychosocial support. The ultimate goal is to help these children live long and healthy lives.
Our work with Africa Directions is an important part of achieving this goal. Africa Directions is based in the Mtendere township in Lusaka. The group provides HIV counseling, testing, and psychosocial support services to children and families living with HIV/AIDS in the surrounding community.
As part of this program, the Foundation supports the training of pediatric counselors and child mentors, who discuss issues of food, nutrition, living arrangements, adherence to medications, and children’s general welfare – all to help ensure that children living with HIV grow up healthy.
Pediatric counselors are critical to the success of care and treatment services in Zambia. They facilitate group therapy and discussion, where HIV-positive children and their families are empowered and educated on the best ways to improve their health. Pediatric counselors also follow up with children and families living with HIV/AIDS, making house-to-house visits to ensure that the ideas discussed in group sessions translate into private practice at home.
The results of the pediatric program are tremendous. We recently met an HIV-positive woman in Mtendere who showed us how these programs can transform lives.
Her name is Agness, and when she first learned that both she and her young daughter were HIV-positive, she was devastated. But that changed after they encountered the Foundation and Africa Directions, and after meeting their counselor Sam. Because of access to psychosocial support and prevention and care and treatment services, they have overcome stigma and have new hope for a healthy future.
“The support group helps my daughter build confidence and self-esteem,” Agness told us. “As part of the pediatric program, our family receives regular visits at our home to learn about adherence to medications and how best to take care of our daughter.”
Click here to read more of Agness’s story
We need more success stories like Agness and her family. More children living with HIV and AIDS urgently need to receive treatment, and more mothers need prevention services to keep their children safe from HIV.
And we also need better outreach to communities through psychosocial support services and child mentors like Sam, who provide a critical link between medical facilities, children, and whole families.
Only through our continued work and the expansion of these services can we provide hope and health to families living with the effects of HIV – one child at a time.
Dr. Susan Strasser is the Foundation’s Country Director in Zambia.