Updated 24 June 2014

Protecting your child from HIV infection

As a parent, you can help protect your child from HIV infection, and contribute to the fight against HIV/Aids generally.


As a parent, you can help protect your child from HIV infection, and contribute to the fight against HIV/Aids generally, in the following ways:

  • Pregnant mothers: If you know you're HIV-positive, tell your doctor so that precautions can be taken to reduce the risk of transmission to the unborn baby. Antiretroviral medication taken by pregnant mothers can reduce the rate of mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy or delivery from 25% (without medication) to 8% (with medication). If you aren't sure if you're HIV-positive but have engaged in high-risk behaviours (unsafe sex, sharing drug needles) that increase the likelihood of HIV transmission, you should get tested for the virus. If you find you are HIV-positive, precautions can be taken to reduce the risk of transmission. You can also start looking after your own health, so that you are as well as possible to take care of your child.
  • Be a good role model: Children model their parents' behaviour, so set them a good example by exhibiting behaviour that demonstrates healthy, responsible attitudes to sexuality and informed decision-making, and that discourages prejudice against people with HIV/Aids. Good role modelling has a positive effect not only on your children, but also on the community in which your family lives.
  • Educate yourself and your children about HIV/Aids and sexuality: Parents need to be knowledgeable about transmission and prevention of HIV/Aids if they are to teach their children how to protect themselves. Aids and sex education policies in terms of what can be taught vary among schools, so don't rely solely on the school system to provide your children with sufficient information. Practise talking openly with your children about important issues and let them feel free to express their feelings and concerns. If children are used to discussing problems and worries openly with you, by the time they reach the age of sexual experimentation, they will be more likely to confide in you and approach you for advice.
  • Educate your children about risks associated with alcohol and drug use and promote abstinence or moderation - by practising what you preach! Alcohol and drug use is considered a risk factor for the transmission of HIV because these substances decrease inhibition, thus increasing the likelihood of engaging in high-risk behaviour such as unprotected sex. Intravenous (injected) drug use carries a very high risk of HIV transmission.
  • Remember that HIV cannot be transmitted through casual contact, so don't be fearful if your child is in a classroom with a child who has HIV/Aids, and make sure your child understands they have nothing to fear. There are no reported cases of HIV being transmitted from child to child or child to staff member in a school due to casual contact, fights, biting or contact sports.
    Therefore, the risks of infecting other children cannot be used as a reason to exclude HIV-positive children from a school. Legally, parents do not have to tell the school authorities if their child has HIV, even if they are asked to disclose this on the application form.

Make sure children understand that they should get help if someone is bleeding, and not to touch other people's blood or other body fluids or let anyone touch theirs without gloves.


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HIV/Aids expert

Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria before working for an HIV/AIDS NPO in Soweto for many years. She was named one of the Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans in 2012.

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