2005-12-01-A child's struggle with HIV drugs

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2005-12-01-A child's struggle with HIV drugs

 

Bongani is a slight little boy. He is 10 but still small for his age, and like tens of thousands of South African children of his age he is HIV positive.

For the last three years, I have been visiting him at his home in Freedom Park - a rough, tough squatter camp that grew up around the platinum mines west of Pretoria.

In June 2002, Bongani's mother died of Aids, then his sister and then his father. Like one million other South African children, he has been made an orphan by this epidemic. His grandmother was the only member of his family left to care for him.

But in some ways Bongani is lucky; at least he has one person in his family who can still take care of him.

When I first went to see him three years ago, he was not at all well.

Bongani and his grandmother were living in a one bedroom shack. He was suffering repeated bouts of diarrhoea which meant he could not go to school. "I can't sleep at night," he told me.

In the middle of 2004, the first anti-retroviral drugs which tackled the Aids virus became available in Freedom Park. Bongani was given them.

So when I went to meet him last year I asked him how he was feeling. "I am feeling well and good now. I don't have the diarrhoea". He was back at school and said he was learning his alphabet.

Bongani was so much better. He insisted that it was he who was looking after his grandmother and not the other way round.

Vicious virus

But Bongani is finding it difficult to take the drugs. It is hard to keep taking medicines at exactly the same time day after day when you are so young. His grandmother cannot tell the time. The nurses bought him a clock but it soon disappeared.

He spent two weeks in a hospice this year with acute pneumonia just before I came to see him. But now he is back at home. He has grown and says he now regularly attends school.


Although Bongani had been in the local hospice, he did not seem to mind. "They give me food and tablets. I feel much better. The treatment is working for me," he said.

Last year he told me he wanted to be a teacher when he grows up. Now he wants to be a policeman. "I will take the crooks to jail and ask them why they do bad things to the people," he told me.

Bongani is receiving a great deal of love and care and if he keeps taking his medication he might fulfil his ambitions.

But taking pills day after day is not easy when you are just 10, and the doctors and nurses looking after him fear that his prognosis is not good.

This virus is vicious; now the largest killer of children across South Africa.

 


 


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