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South African AIDS Orphans Aging

South African AIDS Orphans Aging

A growing number of South African AIDS orphans are in need of specialized care as they transition to adulthood, a new study by the Institute for Democracy in South Africa finds.

South Africa has the world's largest HIV case load and is home to nearly 3 million orphans, many of whom lost parents to AIDS. According to IDASA, an estimated 280,000 South African children age 15 or younger are HIV-positive. With free antiretroviral drugs available through the public health system, many HIV-positive orphans who previously would not have been expected to live to adolescence are reaching college age.

HIV-positive orphans need support with sexual issues and access to free education, health care, and training opportunities, according to Marietjie Oelofsen, manager of IDASA's government and AIDS program.

Harry Moultrie of Johannesburg-based Enhancing Children's HIV Outcomes, an agency that consults with the health department, says HIV-positive teens sometimes assert their independence in self-destructive ways, including not adhering to their HIV medicines. "The health care system is not well-structured to meeting the needs of these adolescents," he says.

Sibani Mngadi, spokesperson for the Ministry of Women, Children, and Persons With Disabilities, acknowledged that the government must do more to assist teen orphans as they grow up. Although AIDS orphans receive financial assistance from the government until they reach 18, there is a growing realization that they need more specialized attention as they become young adults.

Heartbeat, a government-funded group that provides after-school programs to 4,000 AIDS orphans, is doing just that. At community centers, many located in townships, the children sit in circles, discussing their problems and aspirations. Heartbeat offers career counseling, guidance on sex and drugs, and sports opportunities.

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