Background: Antiretroviral treatment means many HIV infected children are surviving with a highly stigmatised condition. There is a paucity of data to inform policies for this growing cohort. Hence we carried out a study on the health, schooling, needs, aspirations, perspectives and knowledge of HIV infected and affected children in Botswana. Methods: A cross-sectional survey using interviews and focus group discussions among HIV infected children aged 6-8 years versus HIV aged matched HIV uninfected counterparts living in the same households between August 2010 and March 2011. Supplemental clinical data was abstracted from medical records for HIV infected participants. Results: Nine hundred eighty-four HIV infected and 258 affected children completed the survey. Females predominated in the affected group (63.6 % versus 50.3 %, P < 0.001). School attendance was high in both groups (98.9 % versus 97.3 %, P = 0.057). HIV infected children were mostly in primary school (grades 3-7) while affected children were mostly in upper primary or secondary grades. Sixty percent HIV infected children reported having missed school at least 1 day in the preceding month. Significantly more infected than affected children reported experiencing problems at school (78 % versus 62.3 %, P < 0.001). Twenty-two percent of 15-18 year old HIV infected children were in standard seven and below compared to only 8 % of HIV affected children (p = 0.335). School related problems included poor grades, poor health/school attendance, stigma and inadequate scholastic materials. The wish-list for improving the school environment was similar for both groups and included extra learning support; better meals; protection from bullying/teasing; more scholastic materials, extracurricular activities, love and care; structural improvements; improved teacher attendance and teaching approaches. Significantly more HIV infected children reported feeling hungry all the time (50.6 % versus 41 %, P = 0.007) and more trouble hearing (26.8 % versus 12.5 %, P = 0.028). The mean age for HIV disclosure 10 years was high. Sexual activity (9.2 % versus 3 %, P = 0.001) and emotions of anger (71 % versus 55.3 %, P < 0.001) were significantly higher among HIV affected children. Future perspectives were equally positive (93 % versus 96 %, P = 0.080), were predicated on children's school performance, self-belief/determination and/or ARVs and preference for medical or military careers was common. Conclusions: In Botswana almost all school-age HIV infected and affected children are attending school but many face daunting challenges that call for the creation of an empowering, empathetic, supportive, caring, and non-discriminating school environment.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health