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International News

Preparing for Life and Death: HIV/AIDS Is a Fact of Everyday Life in South Africa

June 24, 2003

Cotlands began in 1936 as a home for unmarried mothers. Situated in one of Johannesburg's less salubrious southern suburbs, it has evolved into one of the most effective nonprofit organizations caring for children affected by HIV/AIDS. The dormitory houses 42 children up to age six; the hospice takes 20 children from birth to age nine who are terminally ill with AIDS. The hospice has a high turnover, with an average of a death a week.

Cotlands also takes children from communities badly affected by HIV, where it runs home-based care programs. The school was started to serve Cotlands children but later opened its doors to kids from the community. Very few of the children from outside Cotlands are HIV-positive, but for safety's sake and to avoid discrimination, staff treat all children as if they were positive. It is a sensible precaution for any school to take, given South Africa's high incidence of HIV, and some parents send their kids there because, paradoxically, they know they will be protected from the virus.

Crystal Smit and her team had to evolve their own workbook to explain HIV/AIDS and the universal precautions to young children, because there was nothing else available. They tested a homemade version in the classroom for a year before coming up with a draft they were satisfied with. They then had to find sponsorship to print it. But so effective is it that the school now distributes it to schools all over Johannesburg, and holds workshops for teachers on how to use it. Now they are developing a second workbook -- on death and dying. "We have anything from four to five deaths a year in the nursery school," says Smit. "We have to prepare our children for death and we could not find any existing material."

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Adapted from:
Guardian (London)

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
More on HIV Treatment in South Africa