World AIDS Day
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2017, approximately 36.9 million people worldwide were living with HIV – nearly 70% of them in Africa. In addition, an estimated 940,000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses and about 1.8 million people were newly infected with HIV. World AIDS Day is important because it reminds the public that HIV has not gone away – there is still a vital need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice, and improve education.
What is Esperança Doing in the Fight Against HIV?
In Mozambique, a shortage in provisions and a weak capacity to respond to the demand of services, plagues hospitals equipped to treat HIV. On the other hand, individuals living with HIV are often disadvantaged with long distances to get to health facilities, the cost of transportation, long waits, and after all this, missing out on time spent supporting their families.
Groups to Support Community Accession (GAAC) emerged in Mozambique from the need to respond to these barriers between HIV-positive community members and access to Antiretroviral Therapy. The main role of these groups is to have the members serve as “treatment buddies,” providing each other support and sustaining Antiretroviral Therapy.
Esperança staffs a Community Health Activist with our partner in Mozambique, NGUNI. For Isabel Conjo, serving her community in Maciene is a passion that hits close to home. Isabel also has HIV, but through he education of the disease, she was inspired by her condition to help others like her. She provides nutritional counselling, psycho-social support, and other health and well-being advice to community members from two GAAC. Through the free access to Esperança’s mill services in Maciene, these families also have their food preparation workload reduced significantly, as the traditional way of preparing corn flour requires an intense physical demand.
Changing the Stereotype
Matilde Ernesto also lives in Maciene, and was attending nutrition demonstrations provided by Esperança at the local community center when she first heard about HIV. As usual, after the group cooked and fed the children who came with their moms, they had a “roda de conversa” – chatting circle. This is where Isabel (or, as the participants lovingly call her, “tia Belinha”) addressed the question of mother-to-child- HIV transmission. She counselled and showed the advantages of all pregnant women testing for HIV, so to prevent condemning their children to life with the disease. This scared Matilde, as she has five children of her own and had never been tested. After this class, she was determined to get HIV screening with the help of Esperança’s Community Health Activists.
Matilde went back home to convince her partner to go to the antenatal clinic with her so the two of them could be tested. He refused, sending her on her own. “Antenatal care is a woman’s thing,” he said. When Matilde tested positive, she shared the news with tia Belinha, and the activist paid the family a home visit. She explained what HIV was, how it worked in a person’s body, and slowly talked through this man’s denial. Most importantly, Isabel dismissed the notion that women are the culprits of every sexually transmissible disease. Fortunately, Matilde’s partner and five children are not HIV-positive. She and her partner are now on Antiretroviral Therapy and receiving support from Esperança.