As World Aids Day looms along with the annual focus on HIV awareness, so teenagers and children living with HIV in rural Vhembe villages continue to struggle to fit in with their communities because of the stigma associated with the virus.
To address this issue, the Vhutshilo Mountain School based in Tshikombani Village outside Makhado was specifically designed for children affected by the Aids pandemic.
Integral part of community
The school has become a refuge for young people living with HIV who continue to be judged and called offensive names. Even their parents experience negativity as they are judged and insulted, putting a strain on families and making life difficult for them.
The school is currently attended by more than 150 children and youths who are HIV positive and on antiretroviral therapy.
“Over the years the school has grown dramatically and become an integral part of the local community as orphans, vulnerable children and those living with HIV can receive education with strong emphases on positive living and get whatever medical help they need,” said Khathutshelo Nemafhohoni, outreach coordinator at the school.
Some of the programs which are offered at the school include: support services to children and adults living with HIV/Aids; support to family members that are looking after children living with HIV; and education on good nutrition for children living with HIV.
“Some of the challenges we continue to face include a shortage of ARTs and HIV test kits at our local clinics. This is really negatively affecting the work which we are doing for the rural communities,” said Nemafhohoni.
'We need to normalise the disease'
Recently the Limpopo Treatment Action Campaign protested at the provincial offices of the Department of Health regarding the shortage of HIV test kits at government clinics and hospitals in Mopani and Vhembe districts.
“We are fighting to end the stigma in our rural communities, as it is now well known that we are a school for children infected and affected by HIV/Aids. Currently we have 69 children aged from one to six years who are living with HIV. A natural progression from the education programme saw a development of an outreach programme which enables us to provide care to the children and not abandon them when they leave our pre-school. We currently look after more than 150 children and youths who are on treatment,” she said.
The school usually hosts dialogues, workshops and support group meetings for children and youths living with HIV in Vhembe district.
“We are doing our best to empower the children to take control of their own drug regime, to be healthy by eating nutritious food, and to help eradicate the stigma associated with HIV/Aids by improving their confidence and self-esteem. We need to normalise the disease and create a world were HIV will be treated like any other disease,” added Nemafhohoni.
According to Nemafhohoni many rural people still lack knowledge and a basic understanding of HIV/Aids. – Health-e News.
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