I just returned from a month with staff in Malawi. I’ve been with GAIA for 16 years, but I am still always impressed by the dedication and commitment of our team there. This year, there’s a special buzz among the staff–an energy focused on the real possibility that we can help achieve an end to the AIDS epidemic in the southern districts where we work, and pride knowing that our services are moving the needle every day.
It was my special privilege to spend three days shadowing GAIA Follow-up Coordinators, nurses who travel by motorcycle on rough dirt roads, visiting clients in remote, rural villages. The Follow-up Program has become a critical piece in realizing the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets (see graphic in sidebar). Nurses meet once a week with newly diagnosed HIV+ patients, making sure they get connected to treatment and understand their medications and how to take them. The coordinators see clients through the first few weeks of treatment when common side effects may occur. Most importantly, they make sure clients understand they must take the medications faithfully for the rest of their lives. Once patients are stable, they are discharged from weekly follow up, but the coordinator visits again after six months to be sure things continue to go well. Here is the story of one of the many clients I met:
Faith (a pseudonym) is a charming, outgoing 14-year-old girl. The oldest of five children, her father died several years ago. Her mother is HIV+ and has been on treatment for six years, but she hadn’t wanted her children tested as she was afraid of learning that they might also be positive. The other children were healthy, but Faith was sick often. When GAIA door-to-door testing came to the village, Faith’s mother was convinced that the time had come for her children to be tested. The other children tested negative, but Faith was positive. Connected to a GAIA Follow-up Coordinator, Faith started ART and her condition improved. She is now able to attend school again. The coordinator also connected Faith to a teen club at the health center that caters to HIV+ adolescents. Faith enjoys the club because she can talk openly about her HIV status with the other group members.
From Malawi, I bring you heartfelt thanks, from Faith and all the other clients served by this program. You, our donors, make this work possible and we are deeply grateful.
Ellen Schell, RN, PhD,
International Programs Director, GAIA