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April 09, 2013

AIDS Orphans Strain Healthcare in Northern Nigeria

by Heather Murdock

In parts of northern Nigeria, health workers say more orphans are spilling into the country's dilapidated care system because of an increase in poverty, violence and HIV/AIDS.  But some caregivers say they are trying to build a so-called "mega-orphanage" to help alleviate the problem.
 
Favor, a baby girl, is HIV-positive.  About four months ago a little girl searching for food or valuables in the trash found her in a garbage can as a newborn. Favor later died.

It is increasingly common for babies to be found abandoned in her city, said Adama Sambo, a leader of Women Living With HIV/AIDS in Kaduna State.
 
“Some of them, they throw it in the dustbin. Children will go to the dustbin and find the baby is crying and definitely they will call [out]: ‘Baby is crying.  Baby is crying,’” she said.
 
HIV positive babies are particularly likely to be cast aside by parents because of the stigma associated with the disease, said Sambo. Some mothers abandon their babies at the hospital when they find he or she is HIV positive.
 
The babies that find their way to the few homes that take in abandoned HIV-positive children are often left untreated because doctors do not have enough anti-retroviral drugs.  Often orphaned HIV patients are given anti-malaria drugs, which do not help, she said.
 
“I am still crying for the world, the whole world, that we should try and get anti-viral drugs for the babies so that we not be losing the babies," Sambo said. "There may be something tomorrow.”
 
Officials say HIV rates in Kaduna State are considerably higher than Nigeria's national average of about four percent, with some areas more than doubling that number. Orphanage workers say taking in an HIV-positive child costs 10 times as much as taking in a healthy child.  
 
Hajia Maryam Ahmed, who heads an orphanage called Mother Care, said it is not just HIV rates that are increasing the number of orphans in Kaduna.  Poverty has increased dramatically in recent years and more young women are hawking goods, like nuts or soup on the streets.  These teenagers are vulnerable to rape, and are more likely to give up their babies than adult mothers.  
 
Sectarian and religious violence has also killed scores of parents in the past year. The stigma attached to orphaned children leaves many outcast, said Ahmed, while others are kidnapped from orphanages by people claiming to be adoptive parents.  Like most orphanages in Kaduna, hers has halted adoptions to protect children from predators posing as parents, leaving more children that need care. But however broken and overridden the orphanage system is now, she said, some children are making it.
 
Like five-year-old Jessica at FaithWorks, a Christian orphanage.

“I like this orphanage because it is a place where God saves people," said Jessica. "I learn in school about how to speak good English and education.”
 
A FaithWorks spokesperson, Andy Njoko, says his organization envisions building a large orphanage to raise children that are educated, healthy and unaffected by stigma.
 
“The orphanage is actually going to be a very big one," Njoko said. "Of course it is going to have a school, it is going to have a lot of facilities that should be able to cater for over 2,000 children.”

They have the land set aside for the new facility, he said, but they are still recruiting donors to pay for construction.