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Nov 22, 2012

Nurse speaks of caring for HIV infected children

In Healthy Living tonight we get up close and personal with a caretaker of children infected with HIV/AIDS. Nurse Leah Jex works with Hand and Hand Ministries and she comes in contact with these children on a daily basis. Her experience, while challenging, is rewarding as she offers advice to parents and children about learning and managing the complexities of the disease.


Marleni Cuellar, Reporting

Nurse Leah Jex is one of two nurses that work with the organization Hand in Hand Ministries. She’s been working as an outreach nurse for the past four years. It was a job that she went looking for because of their special needs of their patients.


Leah Jex

Nurse Leah Jex, Outreach Nurse, Hand in Hand Ministries

“I wanted to do more for people with HIV and therefore the reason I went to look and the first place I asked; the nurse looked at me and said: you serious? And I said: I’m serious and she told me hand in hand was looking for a nurse.   Our primary focus is to work with children; we can’t just say here’s your medication and move on. We go into homes we look at the issues they are facing, whether they be social issues, whether they be health issues we just look at the whole picture we’re from a holistic point of view.”


After returning to the US and working at a public health facility for five years, Nurse Jex saw the number of HIV patients increase year after year. At the time she left, she says she would come in contact with as many as six HIV infected persons a day.

Working with children though is markedly different. Children are naturally exposed to many minor childhood illnesses; but for a child infected with HIV, a simple cold is a serious problem.


Nurse Leah Jex

“Basically your immune system is depleted, so if you get a cold; it can be a big issue for you. So there are a lot of issues that are involved; if the GI system is exposed to something they cannot defend themselves then that becomes an issue. We have issues like pneumonia, we have issues like tuberculosis, it just depends on how compromised the immune system is. We do a lot of hand washing education, how the meal is prepared? It is not just preparing a meal you have to make sure your surface areas are clean; proper water. We try to educate them on everything we can foresee could be a problem.”


Helping parents and children understand the intricacies of the illness is an integral part of her work. Currently, through Hand in Hand, the nurses care for eighty Belizean children from Belize City, Belize Rural and Dangriga. Most of the children were infected through mother to child transmission only a few are resulting from abuse. Those currently under care are as young as one year to eighteen years of age. As you can imagine, confidentiality is a very sensitive issue.


Nurse Leah Jex

“On a whole so many people look at it like a sexual disease. In reality it could be transmitted to a child from mother to child transmission. But parents are not comfortable in telling their child. You have to decide where that child is in their development will they go and tell their friends will they tell their teacher and all those things that a parent has to look at how well that child will be able to maintain that “secret”. When we get there we have to look at who’s home? So many of our clients; nobody else in the home knows their situation so if we go to a home and they are one person there that we do not recognize we just drive on by. We will come back another time another day. If that person has a phone, we would establish if it is ok to come in the presences of that person. If we would come we would talk about health issues and not necessarily HIV.”


Some clients choose to visit the office instead or meet with the nurse at a neutral location; essentially wherever they are most comfortable.  The medication administered to the children is offered free of cost courtesy of the Ministry of Health. The greatest challenge: keeping the children on schedule with their medication.


Nurse Leah Jex

“We normally start off with what we call our first line. It’s always given in a triple combination; never one medication and that also has its own challenge because one of two of them doesn’t taste very well, so parents, if the child will fights, then they try to avoid that one but because HIV is attacked in the process of replication. We try to educate the parents that if this medication doesn’t cover this part, the other one will cover the other part of the process so we try very hard to ingrain how important it is to give all three.”


If the schedule is not adhered to, then the child’s body can become resistant to the medication. In this case a second line of medication would be administered. Currently, Nurse Jex has nineteen children on second line treatment.


Nurse Leah Jex

“You take for example a child in a home where nobody else knows that child’s status that mother has to give that medication twice a day for the rest of her life, and her goal is to not let anyone know why she’s giving that medication. So if that child fights not to take that medication it is more likely to back off and maybe let that morning or evening go.”


According to Nurse Jex, the teens are the most difficult to keep on schedule.  They’ve now formed and adolescent and teen support group for the children to learn to cope with their condition. While she can cite examples of discrimination from clients, the reality of what the children faced is still unknown since most often their status is shrouded in secrecy.


Nurse Leah Jex

“Because they know and only they know the discrimination they will face. We see it all the time we here with our clients: my mom is not accepting of me cause I have this disease. It is something that I hope Belize can move beyond. We don’t know – I could have it and we don’t know who the next person will be.”


Hand in Hand in addition to their outreach care offers a preschool for marginalized children, scholarship program and the Building for change program, which we regularly feature in our newscast. The organization is celebrating its tenth year of service in Belize with a Hawaiian themed fundraiser at the Pickwick Club on Saturday night. For more information on the event or to find out how you can support Hand in Hand, please visit them at one-forty-four North Front Street or simply call them at 227-6273.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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1 Response for “Nurse speaks of caring for HIV infected children”

  1. Storm says:

    Nurses are often given too little recognition and appreciation. I do appreciate them, and hope one day UB will have a full, accredited program to train Registered Nurses. Programs like that in India and the Philippines, 2 other English-speaking developing countries, educate thousands of Registered Nurses who improve delivery of health services at home, and go to earn very good salaries in the States. I hope one day a leader of UB will look at that opportunity.

    As to the main point, I’m happy that there is some program to help these innocent victims of HIV, who caught it before birth from their mothers in almost every cases. Other countries have gone far to controlling AIDS, and I hope we will follow the same path.

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