Thanks for your comments everyone!
Jenn – I will write about the most impactful moment below but I must say what is most striking is the beauty of the people, their country, and the hope they have for improved lives.
Tracy – There is really no division between what were two divisive groups. This is one country with one people and since 1994, they are moving forward with the power of forgiveness. The rest of the world can learn from their strength.
There are few words that can accurately describe the people that we have met on this trip. Further, I find it challenging to summarize the emotional impact they have had on me. To begin, we went to the TRAC Clinic – Treatment and Research AIDS Center – which provides health services to the public and private sectors. They established a highly successful outreach program for pre-testing counseling, HIV testing and post-testing counseling. Treatment for HIV+ patients are followed with great attention as they are required to return to the clinic every 6 months and if they don’t come for their regularly scheduled appointment, they are visited by a home health care worker for follow up.
What is astonishing about their counseling program is the manner in which they describe the HIV virus to patients. A series of cartoons depicts the role of the red blood cell, the white blood cell, antibodies and how the virus weakens the body. Such an educational tool should be used globally so that viruses can be better understood by patients, especially those who have not had an opportunity to learn it in school.
But the more incredible component of this visit was meeting three children who are HIV+ since birth. Each had the courage to stand in front of our group to talk about how they learned of their status and how the clinic has helped them. Two of them were girls, both age 12, and the boy was 13 and all spoke with soft melodic voices. When asked about their aspirations, the boy said he wanted to be in the Ministry of Government and one of the girls said she wanted to be President! Once again the element of hope became crystal clear. These children were so courageous to speak to us about such a stigmatized illness and I will never forget them.
Rwinkwavu Hospital was next located in the Kayonza District in the eastern part of the country close to Tanzania. Initiated in 2005 by Partners in Health, this health facility is funded in partnership by UNICEF and the Clinton Foundation. This is an expansive hospital, managed by an energetic top notch pediatrician, serves as a model for other hospitals around the country to address the pandemics of poverty and disease. Pediatric HIV/AIDS and prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV are the 2 main focal points to address child survival programs and reach the outer community. Due to the rural location of the hospital, this work is complemented by a community health care worker program that gives the hospital additional eyes and ears on the needs of the community while giving them care at the same time. (n.b. I have mentioned community health care previously and we have witnessed several successful integrations of having such a system in these rural areas. It amplifies the reach of health care where some would not otherwise have contact with quality care nor important nutritional information.) The community health care workers are trained by the hospital which empowers the members of the community to participate. In addition, medical care is well received when delivered by trusted peers. The power of trust can go a long way.
Tomorrow we head to the Nyanza District in the southern province to see a community based nutrition program in Busoro. Until next time…