By Diana Marcela Tinjaca
SAN SALVADOR – Programs promoted in schools and shelters for children with HIV/AIDS in El Salvador have allowed many of them not only to survive but to avoid being discriminated against.
One example is the Jardin de Amor shelter in the town of Zacatecoluca, some 56 kilometers (22 miles) east of San Salvador, which has 21 children with HIV, including two babies and a pregnant teenager.
“Fortunately, no one has rejected them up to now, nor have they denied us the possibility of registering them,” said Jardin de Amor director Vilma Mendoza, who is promoting the normal integration of these kids.
Mendoza said that to “avoid problems,” only the school’s administration knows about the children’s medical condition.
“When they are older they will learn specifically about their condition,” she said.
Kids at Jardin de Amor attend schools in two towns far away from the shelter to avoid dealing with locals who are aware of their situation.
“Children still come back asking why people make references to AIDS around them, but we’ve dealt with it,” said Mendoza, who, besides obtaining medical care for the kids, helps them overcome the kind of discrimination with which they can be persecuted due to a lack of information, fear and social prejudice.
Still persisting in many communities around this country is the fear parents and teachers have about letting their children or their students come in contact with kids infected with the human immunodeficiency virus.
The process of registering at a school has also been special, because the administration must be informed about HIV/AIDS and what to do in case of accidents, such as a child being hit or getting cut.
Meanwhile the children themselves are told they must take medicine so that the “little soldiers” in their bodies that represent their defenses will be strong enough to let them play and study, Cecilia Quintanilla, director of the Queen Sofia Orphanage in the town of San Martin, some 18 kilometers (11 miles) from San Salvador, said.
Because of the widespread discrimination, the coordinator of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS in El Salvador, Herbert Betancourt, said that the country, led by the Ministries of Education and Health, is “working actively” on strategies that include organizing special groups in schools.
“With training we want students to understand that a person with AIDS is someone with courage,” said Patricia Soriano, a teacher at the Humberto Romero Alvergue educational complex, where the Leaders in the Prevention of HIV/AIDS project is being applied.
The program seeks to inform teachers and teenaged leaders about AIDS and train them to accept and respect people with HIV.
With such activities, the authorities hope to avoid any repetition of cases like that of Toñita, a pregnant 16-year-old girl with HIV, who had no chance of attending a school.
“I went to the doctor and that was the first time they told me I was pregnant, and then after some tests they told me I had HIV,” said Toñita, who stays at the Jardin de Amor shelter because her parents cannot guarantee the correct administration of the treatment to avoid mother-to-baby transmission of the virus.
Most children who have spent time in these shelters were born with the virus.
Thirteen of the children at Jardin de Amor, which is run by the Salvadoran Childhood and Adolescence Institute and receives support from The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, did not survive the treatment and died.
Though it is estimated that 15 million kids around the world have been left orphans because of AIDS, it is unknown how many children have lost one or both parents to the disease in Latin America.
El Salvador, where around 1 percent of the population is HIV positive, has not escaped that situation, nor has the exact number of infected children ever been determined.