The Tranquilo Traveler has learned some incredible things about AIDS during this journey. First, a few months ago, Tay and I visited the front lines of the battle against HIV/AIDS in Kampala, Uganda. Churches turned into clinics, HIV testing under a mango tree, nuns distributing ARVs in the pews, communities coming together to support positive neighbors. Really incredible and even uplifting. Then, there was this e-connection with the creators of www.natavillage.org. For World AIDS Day, I invite you to read these entries, follow the links, and tell someone else about it. Then maybe even take some small (or big) action.
Here’s one more thing – a Peace Corps friend sent me this report from Claire Dillavou (another Peace Corps friend), the HIV/AIDS Project Director for USAID in Namibia. Read on:
Happy World AIDS Day!
Well, not necessarily happy that one particular day is assigned to bring attention to a horrible disease, but happy that attention is being paid globally nonetheless. The more people are aware of this, the easier it may be for them to reduce the risks of contracting this disease. For me, when I get back home, I know that I can visit a santa fe health clinic, or one closer to me, to get checked out if I have had sex and am worried about anything. But I do practice safe sex to reduce the risks. These risks can be in the form of HIV, or another type of STD, like chlamydia or syphilis. STD’s have been around for years and were rife in the late 1800’s and during the World Wars (due to a lack of condoms). Nowadays, condoms are very accessible to us to prevent the spread of STD’s, but back during WW2, for example, Nazi soldiers had to turn to sex dolls in preventing syphillis namely, amongst other STD’s. Whilst we may believe that in our modern world condoms are now accessible to all, this is not the case. The same cannot be said for people in countries like Namibia. Some people are not using these services to the best of their ability. I know a few people who don’t do this and should be getting regular checkups, as it is not fair for them to be sleeping around and potentially infecting someone with any sort of STD.
We should be able to get to the point where this single day of awareness becomes a month of awareness and eventually an accepted regularly addressed health issue in both prevention and care and treatment 365 days a year. And as a catalyst to such, we must remember this is a disease affecting humanity. All of it. You and Me. Us.
This morning I went on rounds with the docs at the largest hospital in Namibia and it has the largest ART (Antiretroviral Therapy) clinic with 9,000 patients with HIV/AIDS, and upward of 5,000 on treatment. It is always great to go on rounds as I am not a doctor but I do love to see the different levels of data collection (informatics nerd) as well as the obvious love of interacting with the people most affected by this disease. The most heart-wrenching experiences for me are always the Peds clinic where these kids have no idea what a life without HIV/AIDS is like.
Today I met Sarah, a 12-year-old girl chronologically but in terms of physical development, she has the body of a 5 or 6-year-old. She was brought in by her 14-year-old cousin one day because both her parents have long since died of AIDS and she has been passed from aunt to uncle to aunt etc. Finally, her 14-year-old cousin started caring for her and brought her when she collapsed. She has been admitted for 3 weeks and has gained 6 pounds and can smile now. We have so far to go and the enormity of the numerous facets of the disease can be incredibly overwhelming, but such individual stories filled with hope and heartache are where the common bond of humanity tugs at your heartstrings to strengthen your resolve and refuel your motivation in this continual fight.
Unbelievably touching, these moments always remind me of how grateful I am and need to continue to be. When I think of the factors involved in contributing to my HIV negative status, it is an undeniable reality that geography plays a large role in that I was born and lived in a location where HIV prevalence is much lower than my current location, drugs are widely available, and there is free and easy access to education and information around the disease. So even if you feel geographically detached from the disease, come visit me, go to your local public health clinic, go to your state health department website, or read a UNAIDS report in order to bring the reality home.
Talk about it. Wear a Ribbon. Get Tested.
Some facts to share with colleagues, friends, strangers, etc:
In the 25 years since the first case was reported:
It has killed 25 million people,
Infected 40 million more,
Become the world’s leading cause of death among both women and men aged 15 to 59, and
Inflicted the single greatest reversal in the history of human development.
In 2006, it has killed 2.9 million people alone.
In other words, it has become the greatest challenge of our generation.