Archive for April, 2007

Vulnerable Child Update: Nicholas

April 30, 2007

Written by: Gordon Pearce, Kumasi District Co-Ordinator / Volunteer

(On behalf of all the staff and volunteers at LIFOC)

This month has been a momentous one for Nicholas, as his mother finally consented to him being informed of his HIV status. Although she has known for two years that both she and Nicholas are living with the virus, the mother had previously been unwilling to disclose the information to her son or other family members for fear of stigmatisation. However, she now feels that the benefits of Nicholas taking an active role in the management of his health outweigh any risk that family and friends might react negatively. Obviously the child needed to be told the truth eventually and so it was really a case of the sooner, the better.

Nicholas received the news at during a hospital appointment on Friday 27th April, and it seems that at present he is coping very well. He was given comprehensive counselling by his doctor and other hospital staff to help him deal with the revelation and continue to approach his life with optimism; the idea of ‘Positive Living’ was discussed to ensure Nicholas understood that people with HIV can still enjoy life and pursue their goals, especially when their health is closely monitored and they receive the right nutrition and antiretroviral treatment. In addition he learnt about the different drugs which he is currently being prescribed and the importance of taking them correctly and consistently as advised by the doctor, since an ART regime only partially adhered to can sometimes be more detrimental to a patient’s health than not taking the medication at all.

Despite his HIV positive status, Nicholas’ general level of health is currently satisfactory. His antiretroviral treatment is working to suppress the virus and artificially boost his CD4 count (the most commonly used measure of immune system strength), and notwithstanding a recent slight fever which has since cleared up he has not succumbed to any opportunistic infections. At the hospital his height was measured at 155cm and weight was found to be 40kg, both healthy values for a boy of fifteen which suggest that the specialised diet and nutritional supplements he is receiving are having a positive impact.

Light for Children staff paid a visit to Nicholas’ home on Sunday and he was in good spirits – smiling and happy to talk about his education and hobbies. He told us that his favourite sport is football, which he plays regularly with other children in the neighbourhood, and that the subject he enjoys most at school is art. In the week before the Easter break Nicholas took his end-of-term exams, where in keeping with his preference he thought his best performance was in art. He should find out the results of the assessment in the next couple of weeks when school starts again after the holidays. Nicholas was fortunate to be able sit the examinations at all; it was only because of a generous donation from one of LIFOC’s sponsors that he was able to pay his school fees in time to prevent him being withdrawn from the institution altogether.

Light for Children made a further payment of 1,055,000 Cedis to Nicholas’ mother covering his school fees for the coming term, his next month’s ART and nutritional supplements, and three months’ worth of housekeeping payments to help with the cost of uniforms and stationery. Again, this was only made possible through the generous support of the child’s sponsor without whom his chances of living the fulfilling life he deserves would be very much reduced.

Light for Children Update 23/04/07

April 23, 2007

Written by: Gordon Pearce, Kumasi District Co-Ordinator / Volunteer

HIV Education Outreach Programme for Schools in Kumasi.

LIFOC continued the expansion of its HIV and STI education work in the final week of term before the Easter holidays, with field and voluntary staff paying a first visit to Chipatare Anglican Preparatory Junior Secondary School in South Kumasi. Around 100 pupils aged between 13 and 18 took part in an interactive presentation given by Mike Owusu and Gordon Pearce, with discussions and activities focussed mainly on helping pupils to make behaviour choices that would reduce their risk of exposure to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. A key element of the two hour session was the ‘Journey of Hope’ activity in which participants were encouraged to think about how three major tools for avoiding HIV transmission – abstinence from sexual intercourse, faithfulness to a faithful partner and/or correct and consistent condom use – could help them achieve goals for later life by reducing their risk of contracting the virus. This approach, which was developed in Uganda, places a particular emphasis on abstinence for younger people and has in the past been highly effective in bringing about behaviour change among the target demographic.

The addition of Chipatare Anglican Prep. JSS to the group of schools working with LIFOC represents significant progress in our organisation’s long-term aim of ensuring that as many secondary school children as possible in the Kumasi area are provided with quality HIV/STI education and are thus able to adopt lower-risk patterns of behaviour.

Forthcoming Collaboration with the Kumasi Methodist Educational Unit (MEU).

At a meeting with LIFOC staff on Thursday April 19th the director of the Methodist Educational Unit in Kumasi gave his support to a proposed collaboration between Light for Children and the MEU. LIFOC intends to provide support and counselling for pupils in Methodist schools who have fallen victim to sexual abuse and have come forward with their problems as a result of their participation in sex education programmes. In addition the organisation will provide sensitisation and counselling for the families involved, in an attempt to avoid the difficulties associated with stigmatisation of victims who may be deemed to have brought shame on their relatives. LIFOC would also arrange for voluntary HIV counselling and testing (VCT) services to be made available to victims of sexual abuse, as well as to any other school children who have been involved in sexual activity and wish to know their HIV status.

It is also proposed that Light for Children should be involved in the delivery of HIV/STI education in Kumasi’s Methodist schools, both to reinforce and enhance the current curriculum and additionally to familiarise pupils with LIFOC staff and volunteers so that the children will feel more comfortable discussing with them any problems that they may wish to disclose. LIFOC’s input would take the form of presentations similar in content to those which it already gives in other schools in the area.

The agreement to collaborate in the areas outlined above will now be formalised when details of the proposed work are submitted to the Right-Reverend Nuh Ben Abubekr, the Methodist Bishop of Kumasi, after which a timetable for implementation of the project will be drawn up. The next meeting between Light for Children and the MEU is scheduled for Wednesday 2nd May, immediately after the end of the Easter holidays.

Home visits to Vulnerable Children in Kumasi.

On Sunday 22nd April Yaw Baffour and Gordon Pearce paid home visits to Kwadwo and Nicholas, two of the children living with HIV that LIFOC has identified as being in need of financial support. Kwadwo’s grandmother, who has been responsible for his care since his mother’s death soon after Kwadwo was born, told Light for Children that recent hospital visits showed his health is progressing well and that pending the results of three further tests he will be able to stop taking prophylaxis antibiotics (Septrin). This is great news, especially given Kwadwo’s poor state of health just a few months previously when he was severely underweight and had to stay in hospital for an extended period. Unfortunately, Kwadwo’s family have not received his food ration from OICI this month due to a lack of stock so he is in danger of missing out on some of the specialist nutrition he requires to maintain his current level of wellbeing; his doctor has said that Kwadwo needs to consume more milk and dairy products which are often expensive and difficult to come by in Ghana. This highlights the urgent need to find a sponsor who can help meet the costs of Kwadwo’s treatment and dietary requirements, as his grandmother’s income is only around US$60 per month and she is also responsible for the care of her three daughters and Kwadwo’s brother.

Kwadwo received a school report recently which demonstrated that he is a very able and hard-working student, with particular aptitude in Maths and PE. His teacher describes him as, “a promising child with a bright future.” Finding the necessary funding for Kwadwo’s food and medical care is crucial in helping him to fulfil this promise.

Nicholas is scheduled to visit hospital this Friday, when he will learn from the doctor about his HIV status and receive counselling to aid him in dealing with the news and tackling the situation with the right frame of mind. Although he was diagnosed when he became unwell two years ago and is receiving ART, Nicholas’ mother had previously been reluctant to tell him the underlying cause of his illness as she feared that he would be unable to cope with the resulting stress. However, now that he is going to be fully informed about his condition Nicholas will be able to take an active part in the management of his health and wellbeing and begin taking steps towards living positive living with HIV. Light for Children intends to visit Nicholas again this Thursday and also soon after his hospital appointment to aid in providing the support he will require at this difficult time.