Well. Thanks to my dad for pointing out that I haven’t really written anything legitimate in a while and it basically just sounds like I’m having a really bad vacation right now. So I guess I should give some real updates about what we’ve done… I’m doing some work here, I swear.
So there’s actually a lot, but I think most interesting would be to talk about the HIV information we’ve collected and learned about. I mentioned before that we’ve dove into the Wellness Center, aka their HIV/AIDS and TB counseling and medical department. Because of the stigma against HIV here, they still call it the “Wellness Center” as not to scare people off.
Anyway we interviewed the counselors here and found out some really interesting information – for example, traditional healers (a strong cultural thing here) are actually able to give their patients medicine that temporarily hides/engulfs the HIV antibodies which is what the tests use to determine your HIV status. But if all your antibodies are temporarily missing, patients will think that they’re magically “cured”/negative when they’re actually positive. Awkward.
Also, the general “common knowledge” about HIV is little to nil. Most of it is just rumors and flakey knowledge they got second hand. They don’t even know the difference between HIV and AIDS. Basically, if you know about HIV or want to know more, people are actually put off and might think that you have HIV. Otherwise why would you know so much about it? Why would you even want to know so much about it? Also awkward…
But! There’re also these really cool packs called “Mother-Baby packs” which are packs given to future mothers who come to get their pregnancy checked out. And their FREE! Really awesome. In order to avoid HIV stigma, ALL moms get one—there are three different packs: one for HIV negative moms, HIV positive moms, and HIV positive moms on HART (aka their HIV is in really late stages).
The purpose is to prevent mother to child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV in a country where nearly 1/3 of all people have HIV. “To raise a generation free of HIV.” And in order to avoid the stigma, everyone gets one, even HIV negative moms. All three packs have the same boxes inside whether they have things inside (for the HIV positive) or their empty (HIV negative). It includes a six month supply of medicines because as much as we’d like to encourage people to come to the hospital every month, it’s just not practical. They’re not going to, either because they don’t have the means, don’t have the time, or… they’re just lazy. Regardless, with these fun packs, they have all their medication to help them through their entire pregnancy from vitamins and ARVs during pregnancy, meds during labor, and meds for both the baby and the mom after birth.
Pretty cool, huh? It gets better! Tuesday, I actually went out with Asha, a small Indian girl who’s here on a two year public health job, to a village to a support group she’s set up with the “caregivers” of HIV orphans. The “caregivers” are these grandmothers that take in all the kids that are remotely related to them who have become orphaned because of HIV. It’s extremely common in Lesotho, unfortunately. Anyway, we went out there, sat in a little field in the middle of their village, and lo and behold, these grandmothers start showing up and before you know it, she’s got a group of about 8 grandmothers sitting in the grass wrapped up in their blankets.
With Asha leading, I get to teach these caregivers about the Mother-Baby packs, show them what’s inside of them, and emphasize their importance in being able to “raise a generation free of HIV.” We encourage them to tell everyone they know, and at the end, we split them into two groups and did trivia with them. Candy for correctly answered questions!
I could write a whole entry on just the support group, but I’ll try to keep it to the point. Basically, even though they really only absorbed maybe half of what we told them, they know these packs exist and hopefully they’ll tell people in their community and at least maybe we’ll help a couple future moms. But they did learn. And that’s really cool.
At the end, as we were getting everything together, we took a group picture… and then suddenly they just all started singing and jamming out and, oh it was so fun. Warm fuzzies and huge smiles everywhere. Just standing in a semi-circle and everyone’s laughing and clapping and singing and dancing and it’s awesome. Just. Awesome. Asha’s done some really good work here, and I’m so grateful I got to be a part of it.
…and then we “debriefed” the session, aka… went to a local pub and got some beers. 😀