18
Sat, Jan
22 New Articles

Fighting HIV and its stigma in Uganda

Living

WORKING TOGETHER FOR BETTER Nurture Africa volunteer Gina Corbett (front row, third from left) with nurses and coordinators working in the community in Uganda.

A veteran volunteer, Newport woman Gina Corbett’s fundraising initiatives for Nurture Africa include the Wild Nephin Cycle last July. Here, she shares a personal account of her most recent visit to Uganda with the NGO

In your words

Gina Corbett

I would like to start by thanking everyone who supported this years’ fundraising drive by taking part in events or donating. Your contributions allow Nurture Africa to continue the crucial work they do empowering people to help themselves and to stem the spread of HIV. This year, more than ever, I saw how much each and every cent is essential to Nurture Africa and its clients.
As a seasoned volunteer, this year, instead of working on the building or gardening project, I was privileged to be asked to work in the clinic with the coordinators and counsellors. Some of this work was heartwarming and some of it was heartbreaking.

Emotional support
I learned firsthand about the amazing work they do. How they keep track on clients, making sure they keep their appointments, come to pick up their prescriptions, how they give them a boost when needed and above all encourage them to take their medicine. The last part is the hardest for some, as they have often lost hope.
One particular boy stands out in my mind. He is eleven and as soon as he came into the room I could see he was in trouble. He was a really bright, good looking boy but extremely thin. His story is that his parents are dead and he lives with an aunt. The aunt works all hours of the day and night to get enough money to put food on the table. As a result, she is seldom home and this boy has to look after himself. It’s not her fault, that’s just how it is.
When we asked why he’d stopped taking his medicines he replied he just forgets or that he didn’t see any point in continuing, as there wasn’t a reason to live. He’d also stopped going to school because of the teasing. There was no one to talk to or confide in. It was lucky the counsellors noticed he hadn’t kept an appointment and went out looking for him and brought him in to the clinic to see the doctor and to try to give him some hope.
The hope for the future (near future) is that a way will be found to give a trade to the aunt so that she won’t have to leave home every day. That will be as part of the Sustainable Livelihoods programme. A large part of this programme is supported by your donations.
There were quite a few others like him with the same problem. Isolation, no support, fear of being found out and the stigma still attached to being HIV positive.
It wasn’t just limited to children. A young lady brought her father in. He’s 70 and, like the young man, couldn’t face going out and encountering the stigma. He’s also stopped taking his medicine as he couldn’t see any point in living because of the loneliness and the isolation.
The counsellors sat and chatted with him and assured him that he could come to the clinic any time, day or night, if he needed company. They encouraged him to start a little garden for himself so that he can eat properly and to get a little exercise every day, even just a 15 minute walk. He left smiling, and everybody is hoping he will be able to cope. His daughter is certainly very supportive, but they live miles apart.

HIV testing
One day each week, Nurture Africa goes out into the community and offers HIV testing, and I went with them. We piled a tent and all sorts of equipment and chairs into a van (how those vans keep going is beyond me, but that’s another story). We headed out and set up out in the community. The tent had two sections, one for the people coming in and one for giving results. Then, through a loudhailer, they called people to come for a free test.
I was very surprised at the number of people who turned up. They ranged in age from 14 to about 65. In environments where HIV is prevalent, everyone is encouraged to know their status and test every six months.
It literally lashed rain all the day and the tent poured in on top of us a few times. It certainly rains down in Africa.
Before any testing took place, each person was met with a counsellor who went over what would happen depending on the results and, more than anything, to assure them that, should they be positive, they would be cared for in the Nurture Africa clinic. They can access the care and treatment they may require, live responsibly, and work with Nurture Africa to regain and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
The test is just a needle prick, and the result is through in about ten minutes. The great news that day was, of the 134 tested, there was not one positive.
Back at the clinic testing continued. One young girl in particular stays in my mind. She was in a relationship and had been for a while, but just didn’t feel great and came to be tested. Unfortunately, she was positive and deeply shocked.
Once again I was so impressed with how the counsellors handled it, full of sympathy obviously, but, much more, empathy, which is a lot more useful. A counsellor got out a chart and explained everything to the girl – how the virus grows and how the CD4 cells fight the virus and, with medication, eventually keep it totally suppressed so she can live a full, healthy life. She also pointed out that, once the virus is undetectable, which is the goal of the medicine, she would not be able to infect anyone else.
Another great day was when a couple came in together. They were very obviously a new couple and were doing the very sensible thing of being tested together before proceeding any further. And they got the wonderful news that they were both negative.

Greater poverty
Nurture Africa is expanding out into the countryside, so there was much greater poverty. I visited some homes that broke my heart; absolutely no income and no apparent hope of any. It’s customary in Uganda to bring a gift when visiting. The coordinator brought rice, sugar, soap and a much-valued sliced pan!
In both those houses, the girls were 13 and had to quit school because there simply was no money for school fees. The mother of one had died and her aunt took her in. When the husband found out the girl was positive he gave the aunt an ultimatum: get rid of her or leave. She left and took the girl with her, but she had to go to the other side of Kampala and do whatever work she could find. She did digging and sometimes laundry for neighbours. Her other children followed her. They had nothing. There is a school close by that the girl could attend, if there was a little money.
Sponsor a child
Each year I’m more and more impressed with two things; the spirit of the Ugandan people I encounter and the work Nurture Africa continues to do. Helping people with medicine, working tirelessly to find ways to get children into school and keep them there. Education is the key to survival.
I’ve never mentioned sponsorship before but, should you think about sponsoring a child, it can start from as little as €5 per month. Here’s the link for you to check it out: www.nurtureafrica.org/childsupport. You could change a child’s life.

MORE www.nurtureafrica.ie