Jamaica Program Aims To Help Older Family Members Provide Care for HIV-Positive Children
The Jamaica Gleaner on Monday profiled a program in the western part of the country aimed at improving the treatment outcomes of HIV-positive children. According to the Gleaner, "the burden of care" for many children living with and affected by HIV/AIDS has fallen on older female family members -- such as aunts, grandmothers and great-grandmothers -- in part because HIV-positive mothers are dying young, often in their early 20s.
The program is run by the Cornwall Regional Hospital pediatric clinic to improve treatment outcomes and provide a support network for 63 HIV-positive children in western Jamaica. The program includes grandmothers, great-grandmothers, fathers, aunts, uncles and other relatives. In addition, nine grandmothers and great-grandmothers assist pediatrician Tracy Evans-Gilbert in ensuring the children they care for adhere to treatment regimens. Of the 54 children who are part of the treatment adherence program, the five who have undetectable HIV viral loads are taken care of by either a grandmother or great-grandmother. "Children whose caregivers miss doses or don't give it to them on time don't do well," Evans-Gilbert said, adding that "children whose caregivers are vigilant have undetectable levels of HIV and get healthy."
Despite the success of the program, there are still physical and medical challenges for older caregivers, the Gleaner reports. Evans-Gilbert said that children whose grandparents or great-grandparents are unable to administer treatment properly because of health or other challenges are not placed on antiretroviral regimens. In addition, such caregivers often face difficulties finding money to feed the children and to pay for transportation to take them to clinics and collect their medication. About 45% of Jamaican households are headed by women, who are more likely to face economic hardship because of high female unemployment levels and jobs that offer unskilled women irregular hours and low wages (Jamaica Gleaner, 5/12).