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A day care centre in Uzbekistan helps children living with HIV break their isolation

By Robert McBride

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan, 30 November 2011 - The room was filled with toys, books, pictures.  Indeed, everything that could possibly stimulate a child was provided and the youngsters in the noisy play session were certainly responding.

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Robert McBride reports on a day care center in Uzbekistan which is helping children living with HIV to break their isolation and gain confidence.  Watch in RealPlayer


“I like it because there are toys here that we don’t have at home,” said 6-year-old Davron, happily bouncing a toy animal up and down.  Playing alongside him, Madina, 9, knows that these sessions are all about having fun.  “We come here every week and enjoy ourselves,” she said.  “Everyone is always trying to make us happy.”

They certainly deserve as much happiness as the Kaldirgoch Day Care Centre in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, can provide. For Davron and Madina (not their real names) and the other hundred children here, are all HIV positive.

Pained by HIV taboo

As the children play in one room of this Centre, set up specifically to help HIV-impacted families, Madina’s mother, Odina, is in the adjoining room talking to one of the Centre’s counselors.  “Everything associated with AIDS is presented as very dangerous,” explained Nodira Odilova , a social Worker. “That's why we deal with parents facing very difficult situations.  They don’t understand how their child can be infected.”

Odina admits the day she learned her daughter was HIV positive – probably from an infected needle during a hospital visit a couple of years earlier – her world was shattered. 
“When the hospital gave me the news, I was devastated,” she said. “I couldn’t take it in."

© UNICEF Uzbekistan/2011/Pirozzi
HIV-positive Davron and Madina (not real names) attend an art therapy session at the Tashkent based Day Care Centre for children and families with HIV. Art therapy helps children to express themselves and connect with other children.

With time Odina has come to terms with living with HIV, but not without paying a price. 
“It’s very difficult living with HIV in Uzbekistan,” she admitted.  “We have to hide it from our neighbours because most of the population has no understanding of HIV/AIDS.”

In order to help her daughter better in the years ahead, Odina decided to enroll in medical college.  “Even there,” she explained, “some of the lecturers don’t have a proper understanding of HIV/AIDS.”

Therapy plays important role

At least this Centre offers a sanctuary from the ignorance and discrimination outside.  One of a number set up with support of UNICEF in Uzbekistan, parents and children come here to find psycho-social support and counseling, from counselors who themselves have first hand experience of living with the infection.

In these sessions, art therapy plays an important role in allowing the children to express themselves and connect with other children.

© UNICEF Uzbekistan/2011/Pirozzi
HIV positive children Davron and Madina (not real names) play at the Tashkent-based Day Care Centre for children and families with HIV. The Centre was established with UNICEF support and provides psycho-social support along with medical and legal counseling to families affected by HIV/AIDS.

“It helps them to break their isolation, and gives them self confidence,” explained Komiljon Karimov, UNICEF HIV/AIDS Specialist.  “They can open their hearts and minds to each other.”

Changing hearts and minds

In trying to change hearts and minds in the wider community, these Centres also play their part in outreach and advocacy work.  “Parents are afraid their children might be stigmatized at kindergartens if they are found to be HIV,” said Ms. Odilova. “So we try to change the views of other parents who are sending their children to the same place.”

At home in her apartment, Madina is keen to show off her favourite pets. An avid bird enthusiast, she had just taken delivery of a cage full of new arrivals.  “I like them because they are so small and cute,” she said reaching into the cage, “especially with their bright red beaks.”

One day her family knows they will have to explain to her about the infection she has, and the daily intake of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to keep it in check.  For the moment, though, seeing her so happy, is good enough for the family’s happiness.



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