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Study of HIV risk in children sounds alarm bells
Saturday 7 May 2005
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SOUTH AFRICA: Study of HIV risk in children sounds alarm bells

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


Children at risk - alarm bells sound over prevalence rate

CAPE TOWN, 13 May (PLUSNEWS) - The first national study of HIV risk in South African children aged between two and 18 has revealed an overall prevalence rate of 5.4 percent.

The National Household HIV Prevalence and Risk Survey of South African Children by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) showed that 6.2 percent of children aged between two and nine were HIV positive, 4.7 percent of 10 to 14 year-olds, and 5 percent of teenagers aged 15 to 18.

"Most of the epidemiology of HIV/AIDS research that has been conducted is on youth and adult - there is a dearth of information on HIV risk among children," Dr Olive Shisana, executive director of HSRC told PlusNews.

Just under 4,000 children and teenagers participated in the national survey, with some 3,300 providing an oral fluid specimen for HIV testing. Caregivers answered questionnaires on behalf of 2,138 children in the two to 11 age group, with separate questionnaires produced for the 12 to 14-year-olds and teenagers.

Dr Shisana told delegates at the Second African Conference on Social Aspects of HIV/AIDS Research in Cape Town on Wednesday that she had not anticipated such a high HIV prevalence among children.

She said the survey would also be used "to identify social and community risk factors that predispose children to HIV infection, and determine the number of orphans and child-headed households to assist in proper planning and to intervene where necessary, and to assess children's knowledge of HIV/AIDS prevention - an important factor in children's vulnerability to HIV infection".

Besides mother-to-child HIV infection - typically in the youngest age group - other methods of transmission could include cultural practices like scarification, patient-to-patient infection and sexual abuse.

The data showed that 3.3 percent of the children surveyed were maternal orphans, and in the 15 to 18 age group almost 25 percent had lost at least one parent. The risk of HIV was much higher (12.7 percent) in cases where both of the parents had died, the survey noted.

Three percent of children aged 12 to 18 said they were head of their households, and overall 0.6 percent of households claimed to be headed by a child between 14 and 18 years of age.

"Although this finding is higher than the 0.25 percent from the 1999 October Household Survey, it is likely that South Africa has not yet experienced the full impact of HIV/AIDS regarding orphans and child-headed households - the worst is yet to come," said Dr Shisana.

Forty-five percent of the children said they lived in households where there was not enough money to cover all the food and clothing needs.

Some 13 percent of the households, where there was at least one child in the two to 14 age group, ran businesses from home, like a tuck shop or tavern, and 32 percent of children had been exposed to someone in their home or neighbourhood who was drunk at least once a month.

The study showed that almost 50 percent of children between two and 11 years, and 75 percent of children aged between 12 and 14, were sent out of the home on errands on their own.

"The findings tell us that, as families, we are putting our children at serious risk - children running errands unaccompanied, or attending to the businesses themselves. We must advocate for the protection of children because they really are our future," said Dr Shisana.

She was encouraged by the finding that almost one third of the surveyed guardians had talked about sexual abuse to their children. However, caregivers were significantly more likely to discuss sex and HIV/AIDS with girl children, presenting a need for immediate interventions that included boys in sex and HIV/AIDS education.

The full document is available on the HSRC website or order a copy from www.hsrcpublishers.ac.za


Recent SOUTH AFRICA Reports
Project empowers rural communities to shape own HIV/AIDS programmes,  3/May/05
Clinic tackles urgent need for AIDS/TB treatment,  2/May/05
Voices of mothers on preventing HIV transmission ,  11/Apr/05
Initiative to alleviate effect of AIDS on education,  7/Apr/05
Shared breastfeeding and poor medical hygiene fuels HIV/AIDS,  6/Apr/05
Le portail d'informations générales de la Côte d’Ivoire
The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
Youth against AIDS
Making a Difference for Children Affected by AIDS

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