12 March 2013

New comic book inspires HIV positive children at hospital

Children and teenagers at the HIV clinic at Tygerberg Children’s Hospital have been given a novel new comic book which has helped them to cope with living with HIV.

Children and teenagers at the HIV clinic at Tygerberg Children’s Hospital have been given a novel new comic book which has helped them to cope with living with HIV.

HIV positive patients at the Tygerberg Children’s Hospital recently received the first copies of the book to be released in South Africa. They tell the story of HIV-positive Sipho and his superhero friends. The superheroes are used to explain the virus, how it affects the immune system and why medication can help. 

“The language is great and the pictures are wonderful. It’s told in a way that children from 10 to 18 can really relate to,” says Dr Helena Rabie, who heads up the family clinic at Tygerberg Children’s Hospital, which sees over 1 000 patients a month, many of them children.

Comic written in 5 languages

The MediKidz comic books have been translated from English into Sotho, Zulu, Afrikaans and Xhosa. Over 25 000 comic books featuring Sipho are to be distributed to clinics and other public facilities in five provinces over the next three months.

The comic book has highlighted the excellent work being done at Tygerberg Children’s Hospital to care for children with HIV. Families from communities ranging from Ravensmead and Nyanga to the Winelands areas depend on the hospital for care and treatment.

The hospital cares for tiny babies up to 18-year-olds and is pleased to report a dramatic decrease in the number of cases of children with HIV.

Dr Rabie says it’s important for the hospital to reach out to teenagers in particular.

Living with a chronic disease as a teen

“Adolescence is a very challenging time for children with chronic disease, including HIV. It’s important to feel accepted and to be encouraged to take your medicines. We need to nurture and support them a lot.”

Some of the children and teenagers who regularly come to the Tygerberg Children’s Hospital clinic, spent several Saturday mornings writing and rehearsing a play about their experiences of being HIV positive.  They performed the play to celebrate the launch of the comic books at the clinic.  

“They spoke about how they feel about being HIV positive, and how they had discovered they had HIV. They were honest about their feelings of rejection, but they also talked about having a future and how to live positively. It was very inspiring,” said Dr Rabie.

The comic books are seen as a small but important step in helping children and teenagers to cope with HIV.

“This is a unique and innovative educational resource. We hope it will help to educate children and adolescents on HIV in a language they understand using superhero characters that give them a sense of empowerment and allow them to engage and identify with the key themes and messages in the book,” says Njoki Kariuki, of Access to Care at pharmaceutical company, Abbvie, which funded the book.

Doctors gave insights on content

The content was devised by doctors who specialise in medical education for children, led by Dr Kim Chilman Blair from Medikiz UK and reviewed by two South African paediatricians, Professor Ashraf Coovadia and Dr Leon Levin.

The superheroes include characters called ‘Skinderella’, the skin and bone specialist, ‘Gastro’, who promises to tell you all you need to know about ‘your tum, your bum and all the tubes invetween’ and ‘Pump’ who gives readers the low-down on the heart and blood vessels.

Children at Tygerberg Children’s Hospital were delighted to receive their copies of the book and said they would take them home and treasure them.

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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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