If a parent is not treated for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), their child will do worse in school.
That’s what research from the University of Delaware implies of HIV treatment in Zambia.
But, the case is applicable to Delaware as well, even though HIV is not the no. 1 public health concern, said UD economics professor Adrienne Lucas.
“Getting infected individuals, especially if they are primary caregivers...treatment and support is important for not only their health but also their children’s schooling,” Lucas said.
The link her research suggests is if a parent is receiving treatment for HIV, the likelihood of their child suffering from an opportunistic infection is reduced, allowing them to continue schooling as they normally would.
Delaware has the 14th highest number of HIV cases per capita in the United States, but that is an improvement from five years ago when the state used to have the eighth highest, said Dr. Martin Luta, the head of the infectious disease section with the Delaware Division of Public Health.
Since HIV is treatable, but not curable, Luta suggests the reason for Delaware’s decrease in the amount of HIV cases per capita is the state’s robust testing policy. The health department tries to make access to care as easy to get as possible.
“By testing, we reduce HIV in the community,” said Luta, meaning that once someone is diagnosed as HIV positive, they can start treatment as soon as possible, which helps prevent the spread of the virus.
Delaware treats patients using antiretroviral therapy, which is the use of various medicines that slow or prevent the possibility of the HIV multiplying and spreading throughout the body. Lucas said most Delawareans are on the second line of treatment of ART while many Zambians are on the first line.
In Lucas’ working study, she examined how children in Zambia do in school if their parent has HIV. If an HIV-positive parent is receiving ART, their child is more likely to succeed at the same level as their peers in school.
That’s because the virus is presented as a household issue, which it is not as commonly seen as in the United States. In the US, the issue is more often talked about in the school environment, Lucas said.
“Focusing on schools alone is likely not enough,” Lucas said. “We need to think about what are the other issues that a household is dealing with that is constraining or preventing a child from learning as much as they can.”
Part of the reason why conversations about HIV don’t often thrive in the household is the stigma of carrying the disease.
“As long as there is stigma, people tend to hide,” Luta said. “When people hide, they can’t address their problem. The one way to push a disease into the shadows is to raise the stigma level. Some people don’t even seek testing when they think they might have the disease because they’re scared of the outcome. But it is a social stigma. We allow people to treat HIV just like any other disease and therefore access to treatment and care they need.”
Luta said it’s only by testing that doctors can identify if someone needs treatment and put them on treatment as quickly as possible. People between the ages of 13 and 64 should be tested at least once.