SCMP Friday, December 1, 2000

Couple face struggle to shield son from intolerance


Every morning, seven-year-old Siu-ming (not his real name) takes four different medicines. When he comes home from school his mother coaxes him into the same ritual.
The boy is unaware that he takes the anti-retrovirals because he was diagnosed with HIV as a toddler. His parents have told him: "You're sick. This is good for you."
Siu-ming's case is especially acute. Both his parents are HIV-infected. They were diagnosed four years ago, around the same time the boy was exhibiting signs of a serious illness.
The couple have not told Siu-ming's school about his health, nor do they intend to, said Aids Concern's deputy director Loretta Wong Wai-kwan. "He's doing better, but the most difficult thing is for him to take all these medicines before he goes to school," she said. "All these medicines perhaps bring all these side effects. The taste is not good and the kid doesn't understand why he has to take all these medicines."
The couple kept the child's status from Ms Wong until a year ago. "I paid a home visit and the father told me, 'he hasn't been well recently', referring to the boy. I said, 'oh, really, what is it?' and he didn't tell me exactly what it was. He said - 'he was so sick, I thought I nearly lost him'."
Ms Wong asked to see the boy's medicines. "The medicines for the kid were actually anti-retroviral medications, and then I realised what it was. I knew. My heart ached."
Ms Wong said it would be too much to ask the parents to cope with the added burden of protecting their child from discrimination at school.
Graham Smith, chief executive of Aids Concern, said if schools used precautions the risk of transmission was minimal. "You really have to look at the right of the child to privacy about his health. Once it's revealed, it's likely that the child will suffer a lot of discrimination," he said.
Hospital Authority consultant Dr Patrick Li Chung-kei said parents had no obligation to disclose their child's condition. "Until such time when we can treat HIV as an ordinary illness, I still think there's a reason for patients to be concerned about discrimination."