Celebrating life Living with AIDS # 238

Fx’€¦ MUSIC

KHOPOTSO: There was music, dance, games, laughter, food and sweets galore.  Characters from the kids’€™ favourite television show, Takalani Sesame’€™s School TV, were also at hand to entertain the children.

Fx’€¦ FADE IN SCHOOL TV INTERACTION

KHOPOTSO: This was no ordinary party, says Tammy Meyers, a paediatrician who has worked at the Harriet Shezi clinic since it opened doors in 2002.

Dr TAMMY MEYERS:   We’€™ve had parties before, but often, you can see that children are sick. Although they enjoy the party they can’€™t appreciate it as much as if they were healthy. And today’€™s party, when you look around, I don’€™t think I’€™ve seen anybody that looks ill today.

KHOPOTSO: For Marianne Liebmann, the cheerful Project Manager of the Harriet Shezi clinic, this party was about celebrating life.

MARIANNE LIEBMANN: That’€™s the whole purpose of the ‘€œCelebrate Life’€ party. It was just to show that these kids, with the right care and the right treatment they’€™re becoming happy, healthy, normal little kids and they’€™re ready to just enjoy life like normal kids’€¦ If it wasn’€™t for the care and treatment that they’€™re receiving at Harriet Shezi and at other antiretroviral rollout sites around the country these kids, probably wouldn’€™t be here today, or they would be very, very unhealthy and not able to enjoy things as they are.

KHOPOTSO: Enjoying the party, too, was the mother and son pair of Sibongile and Lebo from Protea North, in Soweto. Five-year old Lebo pulls his mother by the skirt for attention.

LEBO and SIBONGILE:

SIBONGILE: Ini?

LEBO: Ngifun’€™ ukugibela.

SIBONGILE: Gcok’€™ ugibele.

LEBO: By-bye.

KHOPOTSO: That was to say to the mother that he’€™d like to join the other kids on the generator-powered train ride, one of many fun items available here. Sibongile, who turns 25 in less than two weeks, remembers how appalling her son’€™s health used to be.

SIBONGILE: He was really, really sick. He had mouth sores. He was just sick. He wasn’€™t growing. His weight wasn’€™t ideal for his age. People who know my son from when he was a baby (will tell you that ) he was always sick. Sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick’€¦ At first I used to take him to a doctor twice a month.

KHOPOTSO: The young mother goes on to say that Lebo’€™s health has improved quite amazingly after he started he started antiretrovirals.

SIBONGILE: He started last year, in April. He’€™s doing quite well. His viral load is fully suppressed. He’€™s grown. He’€™s just grown. He’€™s superb. I’€™m just amazed at how much this medication’€™s got impact on this HIV and AIDS’€¦ In three months there was such great improvement. He’€™s no longer sick. He hasn’€™t been to a doctor in a long time. He just comes for his normal check-ups. I’€™m happy. I’€™m just happy.            

KHOPOTSO: Sibongile says she doesn’€™t believe that her son would still be alive had he not started taking antiretrovirals. Six months ago she started taking the medication herself and says she’€™s feeling a lot healthier and has picked up weight. She and her son are getting a second chance, she says. And giving children a second chance at life is what doctors at Harriet Shezi pride themselves in. The Harriet Shezi clinic started providing anti-AIDS medicine to children several years before the government could make treatment available in the public health sector. The clinic now aims to put about 100 children from Soweto and immediate surroundings on treatment per month next year. Dr Tammy Meyers speaks of one of their success stories worth celebrating.

Dr TAMMY MEYERS: Our oldest kid is 18. He’€™s in matric this year and hopefully, going to university. He was very ill with TB, actually, when we first saw him. Very, very skinny and wasted’€¦ But at the same time he was going to school. He was quite articulate, this child. He knew about his condition as well. He’€™d been disclosed to about his condition. We put him on TB treatment. He actually improved on TB treatment itself. But then we knew that that wasn’€™t going to be enough. So, we talked around about him and we managed to find somebody who was keen to sponsor him. It was already by the time that antiretroviral treatment was becoming less expensive. That was around 2001, I think. And we managed to get him on treatment and, then, he just thrived. And he’€™s been very, very adherent. He’€™s done well. He’€™s virally suppressed and his CD 4 is good now. He’€™s looking after himself. He’€™s a very responsible kid.              

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