There are many adjectives we have used to describe the mothers supported by our collaborative project with GWED-G: strong, resilient, compassionate, brave. We all agree, however, that these words fall short. HIV is known as the silent killer for a number of reasons. In many situations, the virus can go undetected for years until symptoms become severe. This disease also stays silent due to fear. As we have learned, some people who are infected chose to keep their status a secret to avoid discrimination and abandonment. Hence they remain silent and die without ever having sought out treatment.
The women chosen to be part of GWED-G’s and GlobeMed’s decided to come out to their communities as HIV positive despite certain isolation in order to secure health for themselves and their children. In turn, they were prematurely labeled dead and accordingly a waste of food, time, and attention. Many of them were blamed for bringing disease into their home and run out of their houses by their husbands, left to take care of their children alone. Their kids were also labeled as infected and other parents in the community forbade their children from playing with them. Although persecuted, these women now have access to antiretroviral medications every month. They additionally receive antenatal care and seed grants which supply nourishment as well as livelihood. Moreover, they have established a support group, a network of women who are similarly HIV positive and are enduring the same challenges together.
This past Thursday and Friday, we were able to meet the beneficiaries of the Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) project. They explained to us that the safe birth kits provided by GlobeMed encourage them to give birth in hospitals as opposed to at home. Through joining the project, they have an outlet to share their stories. One woman named Alice told us that being part of this group helps her feel like a “normal person again”. In Palema county, mothers told us that they now see that so many others in their community are affected by HIV, and therefore feel that they no longer have to hide. With the introduction of a Village Savings and Loan Association in their group, they now have a source of money to buy every-day essentials such as salt and sugar. Thanks to GWED-G’s counseling, they have given birth to babies free of HIV. One group member named Zainabu, who has known of her HIV positive status for 18 years, has given birth to 5 children who are HIV negative, including baby Emily who is 6 months old. In her interview she explained that upon seeing that she is capable of giving birth to healthy children, her community now sees that she is strong, and some members no long view her as being infected.
Although there is plenty of evidence that the project is successful, the mothers explained to us that they face many difficulties on a regular basis. Disease leaves them weak and unable to do agricultural work and they therefore find themselves unable to provide for their children. Procuring enough money to feed their families is a constant struggle. The travel to the closest health center takes half a day on foot. On occasion, they show up to Health Centers after more than 6 hours travelling by foot and are told that antiretrovirals have run out or that the Center is closing. Many of the women expressed fear that, like many other initiatives started by non-profit organization, GWED-G and GlobeMed will not continue their project in years to come. The women told us that although all of the members of their community have at least a basic understanding of HIV, its trajectory, and its causes, it is their attitude which results in the stigmatization of those HIV positive. Attitude, they say, cannot be reversed after several of educationally driven GWED-G community visits. In order to eradicate the attitude towards HIV, the mothers insisted that sensitization and awareness sessions must continue on a regular basis.
Despite challenges, however, all of the mothers we spoke to were hopeful. They unanimously feel that the education about and attitude towards HIV will improve within the next 10 years. They believe that GWED-G’s approach is unique in that they address the real needs of the community and employ are targeted approach instead of providing useless incentives and taking on too much like other organizations.
Talking to these women was an incredible experience for the GROW team. It also provided us with a much more comprehensive understanding of the link between HIV and poverty. As Franny, our Project Coordinator, explained to us, individuals are forced to make compromising decisions when faced with dire economic situations despite levels of education regarding HIV and AIDS. Overall, we left our sessions with these women feeling confident in our work with GWED-G and determined to continue and expand its effects.
GROW Team out.
– Jess Northridge