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Paediatric Day Hospital transforms lives of children living with HIV

Press release from UNICEF | January 17, 2007

Maputo, Mozambique - In a sunny waiting room decorated with colourful paintings, 14-year-old Leo (not his real name) chats happily with the nurse. But his present disposition belies a difficult past.
"Our major success to date is our child survival rate - which is a 95 per cent success rate after two years of ARV drugs,"
- Dr. Vaz

Just a few years ago, he was so weak that his mother had to carry him on her back in order to bring him to this hospital, where he spent much of his childhood.

Leo is living with HIV, but unlike many children in the same situation he is receiving antiretroviral (ARV) treatment as well as care and psychological support from a loving and highly trained staff.

The Paediatric Day Hospital opened at its present site in 2004, with support from the French Government and UNICEF. However, services for children living with HIV and AIDS have been provided by the hospital since 1994.

The main difference at the hospital compared to the 10 years ago? Child survival.

"Our major success to date is our child survival rate - which is a 95 per cent success rate after two years of ARV drugs," says the director of the hospital, Dr. Paula Vaz.

The challenge of stigma

Dr. Vaz identifies a key challenge in the treatment of HIV, however - the challenge of HIV/AIDS stigma. Because of this problem, children are often not brought to the hospital for the proper treatment.

"We are able to provide an integrated package of medical, psychosocial and nutritional support," says Dr. Vaz. "It can be achieved, but you need to have a committed team. The main reason why the children on ARVs die is because their parents brought them in too late."

Leo talks about his HIV status with ease at the hospital, but he keeps it a secret from his friends due to fear of possible discrimination.

"The children are able to accept their HIV-positive status better than their parents. It is the parents who are often in denial that their children are living with HIV," explains Dr. Vaz.

'Seeing our children grow up'

Psychosocial support, including counselling, is a central service of the Paediatric Day Hospital. Artists come into the hospital twice a week to work with the children, who produce paintings, sculpture and other artwork.

"It helps the children express their emotions that they sometimes cannot put into words," says Dr. Vaz.

Psychologist Caterina Mboa Ferão says that her work has become easier now that the children have access to ARV treatment. "Before, HIV was associated to death," she recalls. "But now we can talk about life, and we're seeing our children grow up."

Article has been adapted from a news release issued by UNICEF.

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