While developing our pediatric HIV care program in 2004, one thing we repeatedly asked ourselves was how we could make an impact beyond simple handouts. We wanted our program to do more than provide food and medicine to HIV positive children, services provided by countless charities. We came to the conclusion that in order to most effectively combat HIV, we had to relocate the responsibility of healthcare to the caregivers at home.
After realizing that we needed to provide the community with the right tools to take care of their own, we made it our goal to strengthen the women who are often overseeing multiple orphans. With the help of the Harvard School of Public Health, we developed a curriculum especially designed to train women caregivers in Zambia how to take care of their sick children and family members at home.
When a child is enrolled in our pediatric HIVcare program, their parent/guardian undergoes a week-long training session focused on caring for an HIV+ child. This unique approach has led to a survival rate of 95% for the infected children in our program, a demographic whose life expectancy is only 5 years. Of the 368 children enrolled in the program since 2004, we have lost 11.
The goal of this training is to equip parents/guardians with basic nursing skills and counseling so that their child can be under the care of a trained caregiver 24/7. After being trained, caregivers are able to identify and treat a variety of opportunistic infections that take advantage of HIV+ children’s suppressed immune systems. They are also able to identify situations where the child requires a higher level of care. To date more than 450 caregivers have been trained.
The Training Program
The following topics are covered in a typical training session:
- Child health - the importance of visits to the clinic for young children, nutrition and sanitation, hygiene, medication, communication and confidentiality
- Basic facts about HIV and AIDS, voluntary testing and counseling, antiretroviral therapy, the importance of adhering to medication
- Opportunistic infections and how to treat them at home - diarrhea, vomiting, fever, cough, headaches, abdominal pains, tuberculosis, and mouth, ear, nose, and skin problems
- How to recognize signs of danger and when to take the child to the clinic/hospital
- Psychosocial care and support
- How to identify the signs and symptoms of breast and cervical cancer
- Legal help and where to get it
- Discussion about environmental issues and hazards
Measurable Outcomes of the Training
As a result of this training, the caregiver is able to:
- Provide better care to the child in all aspects
- Share adequate information on HIV and AIDS with the child
- Identify why they themselves should be tested for HIV
- Better counsel the child and ensure their mental wellbeing
- Identify danger signs and refer the child to the next level of care
- Adhere to treatments and care, thereby reducing the number of visits to the clinic