Hesperian Health Guides
Care for children, families, and caregivers
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It is hard enough to take care of a healthy child. Children demand attention, love, food, and before they can communicate well with words, you often need to be a mind-reader to know what they want.
When a child has HIV it is harder still. Children with HIV are more sickly and need more food, love, and attention if they are to grow well. They have to take medicines, which no child likes to do. They need more support to go through the same developmental changes that all children go through. All this makes the job of a caregiver harder, more stressful, and more tiring. And if a child has lost one or both parents to HIV, caregivers must also respond to the child’s grief and distress.
But often the caregivers themselves are ill and need help. When there is a lot of HIV in a community, it takes a terrible toll on everyone. Adults in the prime of life, the most productive men and women in a community, are usually the most affected, leading to less income, less activity, and less energy to care for the needs of the present or to build the community’s future.
In many cases, it is grandmothers who are left to care for the children because their sons and daughters are the ones who have died. Or after parents die, it is aunts and uncles or more distant relatives who take in the children, adding to difficulties they may already face in caring for their own children. In some cases, children may be left to care for themselves, the older children for their younger brothers and sisters.
For all these reasons, communities need to work together to ensure that children get the food and other care they need to be healthy, to grow up in a family that loves them, and to be able to go to school. We need to make our communities places where everyone can participate without stigma or discrimination. Strengthening ties among people will result in a stronger community. Sharing the burden of caring for children is part of caring for caregivers. It means more time and attention can be given to babies and small children so there will be fewer troubled and neglected children and adults in the community.
Caring for caregivers
Support for caregivers living with HIV can be as simple as doing some food shopping for the family, watching the children to give a caregiver a short break, or being neighborly and helping with household chores, gardening, or a simple repair.
Parents and other caregivers will be able to look after children better if they also have some time to relax. Simple things like going to the market, visiting friends or relatives, talking with friends, having a massage, or being part of a community group can all help, especially if you feel overwhelmed.
If you care for children with HIV, you may be able to lean on your traditions to help you. Many people build inner strength and calm their minds and bodies through prayer, meditation, making art, singing, yoga, tai chi, or similar activities.
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People have found ways to cooperate to help meet each other’s needs — group kitchens, support groups, shared childcare, seed-sharing, community gardens, barn-raising. Together it is possible to do what you cannot do alone.
Communities have found ways to support caregivers, which helps children. It is better to help a family feed their children, care for their health, and send children to school than to look away while the family suffers and stops being able to provide the care children need. See Chapter 15 for more information.