I’m currently tapping away on my laptop on the Gauteng railway line headed towards the airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. This pristine high-speed line connects travellers who can afford it across Johannesburg and all the way to Pretoria.
What a contrast to just two hours ago, when I was sitting in the small shack house belonging to the grandparents of four-year-old Lindo, where they clearly didn’t have the ability to offer us a cup of tea but wanted to.
No birth certificate, no benefits
Lindo was born HIV positive and is showing the side effects of her antiretroviral therapy (ART).
Her mother abandoned her when she was just three months old but took her birth certificate – probably in order to claim the state child support grant.
Without this vital document, her paternal grandparents haven’t been able to receive the state support they are entitled to.
Her father wasn’t registered on her birth certificate, it’s as if he doesn’t exist, so getting replacement documents is taking a long time.
As her grandmother is handicapped after a stroke, they all survive off her tiny disability allowance grant, but it’s not nearly enough.
Lindo has scabies and bumps all over her skin – a side effect of the ART.
She’s a beautiful, happy child and you can see her grandparents adore her. However, food has become increasingly expensive and without a nutritious diet, the impact of the ART will be less effective, hindering Lindo’s health and life expectancy.
A lifeline of care
Lindo is visited weekly by a care worker, two phenomenal women – Emma, a social worker from Soweto, and Frieda, an outreach worker for Cotlands, a non-profit organisation Save the Children has recently begun a partnership with.
They visit five families a day. During each visit they check on the general health of the child, ensure they are receiving their antiretroviral therapy and help each family access state support and other things they may need.
The care workers distribute medication log sheets and use these to ensure the family is administering the ART properly. These women are a lifeline and work tirelessly in dangerous areas to help make a difference to children’s lives.
Things have improved dramatically in South Africa since the successful implementation of ART to HIV sufferers. Nevertheless, there is a long way to go.
Many men refuse to get themselves tested until they start showing symptoms. Most women choose not to let new partners know if they are HIV positive because they fear the rejection if they do.
And in a society where most men still refuse to wear condoms, and where many girls are sexually active from as young as ten (an estimated 80% of first sexual encounters are forced), the spread of this deadly killer continues.
What’s needed is continued awareness and education programmes, especially programmes which engage men, as well as women, and challenge relationship and sexual behaviour attitudes. One such organisation is the Sonke Gender Justice Network, which according to Emma, is making an impact, but more needs to be done.
Walking away from Lindo watching her playing with the razor sharp wire fence outside her house, I couldn’t help wondering what future lies ahead of her. Things have improved dramatically in South Africa, but for this little girl living in such abject poverty, the outlook is still too bleak.