Animation a useful tool to help disclose HIV status to youth in western Kenya
Today, 3.4 million children are living with HIV and 90% of them are in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2008, only 16% (about 20,000) of HIV-infected children were receiving treatment in Kenya. Recently that number has improved to 43%; however, treating the child is only half the challenge. Disclosing HIV status to a child is difficult. Due to stigma surrounding HIV that still exists in Kenya, often parents delay telling their child they have the virus. Instead, many HIV-infected children taking medications since birth are told they have respiratory issues or another condition unrelated to HIV. A study done in western Kenya within the AMPATH catchment among HIV-infected children (mean age 10) found that only 26% understood they were HIV infected. When stratified by age, the study found that 62% of 14-year-olds did not know their HIV status.
As HIV-infected children transition into adulthood it is important that they understand the implications of HIV and the significance of adherence to treatment. Developing adequate HIV disclosure protocol, including specially trained counselors and healthcare providers and HIV disclosure counseling tools, is critical to helping the 15,000 children AMPATH cares for (5,000 of which are on antiretroviral therapy).
Lydia Fisher, a third-year IU School of Medicine student helped to create one such tool. Lydia recently returned from Eldoret after taking a year long hiatus from medical school to assist the AMPATH Research Group in Kenya. Many times during a disclosure session, Dr. Rachel Vreeman, Lydia’s supervisor, would sketch an illustration to help explain to children the importance of therapy and why they need to continue to take the medication even though they no longer felt sick. Seeing how these sketches and illustrations were useful, Lydia combined skills from her graphic design undergraduate degree with her medical school knowledge to develop a cartoon video that healthcare providers and counselors could use during disclosure sessions.
“The idea is that the counselors would be able to play the video on their iPad or smartphone for the children, making the disclosure tool mobile and easy to use,” said Lydia. The video has already been rolled out and is currently in use with specially trained AMPATH HIV-disclosure counselors. Watch it here in Swahili or in English.