HIV-Aids orphans face life alone

September 11, 2008

HIV-Aids orphans face life alone

September 06 2008 at 03:58PM

Sandleni, Swaziland – At only 15 Nonsikelelo Hlophe is old beyond her years after she and her siblings lost both their parents to HIV-Aids, turning the family into one of thousands headed by children.

The slightly built teen lives in the mountainous kingdom’s central region, in a remote, sparsely populated area, which according to the charity World Vision has around 3 000 child-headed households.

The Hlophe children lost their their father, the family’s sole breadwinner, in 2002.

The illness forced him to abandon his job in the gold mines of neighbouring South Africa and return to his home in Sandleni village where he died.

“As kids we were not told what killed him, causes of death are not discussed with kids,” Nonsikelelo said, staring blankly into the distance.

Two years later, in 2004, Nonsikelelo’s mother also died leaving the family’s eldest son Ndumiso, then 18, to assume the role of head of the family and provider even though he was still at school.

According to World Vision’s Musi Mayisela, the Hlophe family is far from unique in Swaziland which celebrated 40 years of independence on Saturday and where HIV-Aids affects nearly one in four adults, the world’s highest infection rate.

Orphans are left penniless and with no means of supporting themselves.

“The case of the Hlophe family is a classic case of what is happening in many rural areas here in the country,” he said.

Despite Swaziland’s high HIV-Aids rate, the disease is often still not referred to by name. “People call it this new disease or this three-letter illness,” added Mayisela.

Life saving anti-Aids drugs were only rolled out in Swaziland in 2003, according to local action group, Swaziland Positive Living.

There are currently 51 000 patients receiving therapy at different locations across the country – a fraction of the number affected.

“Sick people have a difficult time reaching these places and drugs often run out, resulting in non-adherence, which could cause fatal complications,” Cebile Dlamini, spokesperson for the group, said.

Dlamini, whose organisation has field workers across the country, said children were the hardest hit by the disease.

“There is still a need for a more comprehensive roll-out of treatment. The available drugs are funded by overseas NGO’s and this calls for support from within the country,” she said.

For the Hlophe children, none of whom is HIV positive, home is a modest two-roomed brick house, built by World Vision after their traditional dwelling collapsed.

The kitchen doubles as a bedroom for the girls and school fees are subsidised by the government. They receive food parcels from aid organisations.

They work hard to help their eldest brother bring in enough money to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.

But despite all the hardships, Ndumiso, now 22, who earns money doing odd jobs, has not given up on his dream of becoming an accountant when he finishes school this year.

“Right now I want to earn more money to support my sisters and brothers,” he said.

And Nonsikelelo’s older sister Phumzile, 20, inspired by her family’s experiences, cherishes an ambition to become a nurse after finishing school.

“I saw the pain that my mum went through – now I want to become a nurse when I finish school so that I can help other people,” she said.

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