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Question
Posted by: Concern Aunt | 2005/12/05

When & how to tell...

I'm staying with my little cousin (6yrs old) who is HIV +ve.Her mother passed away 3 years ago. When and how do I tell her about her status?She will be starting school next yr.

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Our expert says:
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Hi Concerned Aunt!

A very difficult situation, but you will have to tell her very soon.

She needs to know that:

1. She has a virus in her blood that she got from her mommy and that to keep well, she will need to do certain things like going to the docter etc. (I suppose she goes for check-ups sometimes and might have to take ARV's at some stage. She needs to understand part of the reason for this)
2. She must be careful at school if she gets hurt and bleeds while playing with other kids, so that the virus does not get into them, otherwise they will have to go to the docter to keep well etc.
3. Whether you disclose to the teachers or not is up to you and depends very much on whether you can trust them not to discriminate.
4. Your little cousin must be treated like everybody else so she can enjoy her childhood as a healthy little girl, but as far as possible taking responsability for keping others safe herself (see 2).
5. She needs to understand that the virus in her blood does not mean that she is bad or dirty.
6. She does not need to be confronted with the spector of possibly reduced life expectancy at her age, just that "there are special things she must do to keep well".
7. Hard though it may be for you, what will help her most eventually is sound knowledge of how the virus works as opposed to her first contact with this reality being made very emotional by your fear and sadness. If she is clever enough, you could tell her e.g. about the immune system and how it protects the body, the virus and how it affects the immune system, using imagery a child can relate to. Write again under a new question if you need some ideas.

Good luck and keep strong!
Laurent

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