Hesperian Health Guides

Chapter 13: Helping children with pain

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HealthWiki > Helping Children Live with HIV > Chapter 13: Helping children with pain


Children get hurt all the time. They feel pain from falls, wounds, or other accidents, from illness, from physical or sexual abuse, or even from health care, such as injections, examinations, or side effects from medicines. Some pain is part of life, but no child should have to suffer pain if it can be avoided.

Pain and illness from HIV

Giving ART to children with HIV as soon as possible prevents a lot of pain. Without ART, children with HIV are ill more often. Their illnesses are harder to treat and take longer to heal, and some illnesses cause a lot of pain. For example, ART prevents mouth and throat sores that can be painful and long lasting in a child with HIV.

Untreated HIV can also cause serious and painful illnesses that are usually very rare in children, such as cancers. HIV infection throughout the body causes pains that can be difficult for a child to describe or understand, such as headaches, muscle aches, joint pain, and tingling or burning in arms or legs.

a child thinking
I hurt all over. Will I ever be well?

Pain can be hard on children

Some people think babies and children do not feel pain, but they do. Too much pain makes children more ill, especially when it makes them stop interacting with others, stop eating, digest food poorly, or breathe in slow, shallow breaths. Children in pain have less energy, grow poorly, and are slower in their abilities to think and understand things.

Feelings such as grief, worry, fear, loneliness, or exhaustion can hurt a child’s spirit and cause or add to a child’s pain. Unkindness and cruelty because of stigma from HIV cause a lot of emotional pain for children.

There is almost always something you can do to relieve pain. To lessen a child’s pain, try to think of how she may be suffering physically, emotionally, socially, or spiritually, and the different ways you can help.


This page was updated:27 Nov 2019