On Friday 21 July a conference took place in Kinshasa in the PNLS room (National AIDS Control Program), called “Sharing the experience of the DREAM activists in the fight against HIV/AIDS”.
The idea originated from the growing interest of the National Program, responsible for taking charge of the HIV patients, towards the DREAM experience, which shows excellent retention statistics also in the DRC. For a few years now DREAM has also carried out an important awareness program in support of adherence to the treatment, especially in the suburban districts, thanks to the support from the activists. Therefore through an initiative of the PNLS all key actors of the sector were invited, particularly those responsible for the take charge of the psychosocial aspect and the community sector, the representatives of the networks of HIV-positive patients, and representatives from international organizations such as the CDC or WHO. Important also was the presence of institutions which collaborate with international funds such as Global Fund, PEPFAR and other NGOs such as MSF and ICAP. Various representatives from other health centers and maternities in the N’Sele health region (Kinshasa) were also present, who collaborate with the DREAM center in the area.
During the conference various topics were presented, such as the context in which the figure of the activist is born and operates in, and the main characteristics of what has by now become an important full-fledged professional. Furthermore the requirements were listed along with the training which DREAM carries out, as well as the various aspects which fall under the activist’s role and his/her relationship with the center and its personnel. Finally the data from the activities was presented, particularly from the last 2 years, when activists worked side by side with the medical team. The results, even though partial and necessarily still limited in time, showed the essential contribution of the activists in support of retention: in particular, aspects found to be especially problematic were highlighted, through various interventions, such as the take over of teens, reinforcing adherence, the active search for the “lost” patients who do not show up at the appointments, and the counseling and support for couples where only one individual is HIV-positive. Others explained the “parrainage” program towards teens, in which one closely supports a neighboring teen not adhering to treatment. It is a real challenge and a fight which focuses on involving the family, often grandparents or uncles which are also in a precarious situation, and gain the trust of the boy or girl.
At the same time it also means setting up support networks, such as the payment of school fees, which contributed to the majority of these teens adhering to treatment and finally suppressing the viral load.
The WHO representative Dr. Nicolas Nkiere Masheni lastly wished to highlight how one cannot fight against AIDS and Tuberculosis only through a medical point of view, but instead a global approach is required, involving the activists that may have an important role for the treatment’s success.
The conference ended with the sincere gratitude of the Director of the PNLS, Dr. Théodore Assani Salubezya, who highlighted the importance of the special effort that the DREAM Program makes in treating children and teens.
The activists, who were visiting Kinshasa for the first time, publicly took sides defending their work and their contribution and demonstrated yet again how not even an excellent program may reach quality goals if it doesn’t have a soul, if it is not willing to go that extra mile.
Thanks to its important results, the DREAM Program of the Community of Sant’Egidio is the example of how men and women, if freed by the stigma and given dignity through a qualifying service, are willing to help others and make a difference in the treatment of AIDS and change the society in which they live.
Maputo, Mozambique. Maputo’s Social Service Institute sits next to the Josè Macamo hospital, near the city center. It is the only public institute for the elderly in the Mozambican capital. About thirty elderlies, both men and women, live in two small buildings separated by a concrete courtyard. These are people who live in extreme poverty and who are offered food and shelter. The Institute also offers temporary shelter to street children, pregnant girls or small children.
The days are long, especially for the blind or nursed elderly. It is for this reason that Maria, Beatriz, Pedro, Afonso and all the other guests eagerly await visits from the DREAM activists and Giovani per la Pace (Youths for Peace) that periodically bring their affection, company and some material help.
On New Year’s Eve the activists brought some gifts, making it a special moment: colored cloths -capulane-, handkerchiefs, toothpaste, soap…and razorblades for men, creams and perfumes for women.
The vivid colors of the capulane, the snacks and the party all framed this moment of celebration and friendship. The Mercy Christmas continues and also reaches many people in the most hidden places.
On 3rd August a peaceful march took place in Mozambique against the stigma regarding people suffering from HIV/AIDS.
Several associations of seropositive people, the Muslim Council and other members of civilian society took part in the march, which was organised by the Community of Sant’Egidio together with the Eu DREAM Association.
The idea of the march came as a result of the Mozambican Ministry of Health’s decision, a few months ago, to close the public health centres specialised in treating and assisting people with HIV/AIDS.
This decision has produced a dramatic situation for many sick people in the country and has created serious problems of access to the antiretroviral therapy, a considerable reduction of the level of the quality of the treatments and no more rights to privacy and confidentiality.
During these months, many sick people have abandoned their treatment, many are demoralised because of the increase in stigma and discrimination towards them, the level of adherence to the treatment has decreased and the number of deaths from AIDS has increased.
The Community of Sant’Egidio, together with other representatives of the Mozambican civilian society, is concerned about the suffering of so many sick people, so it put together the experiences of many confused and desperate patients and promoted a march aiming to make the Government and the public opinion aware of the situation and ask for the right to treatment for AIDS for the many Mozambicans who need it: effective, accessible, high quality treatment.
The march took place in several towns throughout the country.
In Maputo the march crossed one of the city’s main roads and ended at the Ministry of Health, where the appeal, signed by thousands of sick people, was read out to the Minister, in front of the National and International press.
The appeal is for high quality treatment to be guaranteed to everyone, free of charge, in specific facilities, with no stigma or discrimination of the patients.
Several coaches arrived at the meeting place, bringing sick people from all over the city and also from around the whole Province. There were also delegations of sick people from the Province of Gaza.
Everyone was wearing a piece of material around their wrist and this became the symbol of the commitment to a shared fight.
There were many banners demanding the right to live and equal treatment for the country’s whole population. There were also many professional health workers and some personalities from the world of Mozambican entertainment and culture, and many ordinary citizens, students and families who also came to join the protest.
In the end 3,000 people delivered the thousands of signatures with the request to amend the decisions taken and to set up a committee with the associations of seropositive people, in order to work towards guaranteeing fairer assistance and treatment for AIDS.
On the occasion of the march, the Eu DREAM Association provided and circulated a telephone helpline and an email address, which everyone who has AIDS can use if they wish, both to ask for help and to report cases of dysfunctions of the national health service, and these cases will be collected and reported monthly to the Ministry of Health and to the press.
The march also took place in Beira, the second largest city in the country, and around 2,000 people took part, including people not only from the city, but also delegations from the whole Province and from the Province of Manica.
After the appeal had been read out in public the signatures that had been collected were given to the local health authorities.
At the same time in Quelimane, in Zambesia, there was a meeting of 200 sick people, who discussed their rights, thus joining the other towns’ protest.
The meeting ended with a collection of signatures and the appeal was read out over the local radio.
The Eu DREAM Association has organised many meetings to be held in the near future with patients from various towns in the country who wish to join this campaign, for a better life for themselves and for all the people with AIDS in Mozambique.
In Guinea, the beginning of summer is dedicated to children: a perfect occasion to have a party with the little ones being cared for by the DREAM center in Conakry.
The initiative was started by “I DREAM” activists who, like they did in the past, asked everyone to lend a hand.
Thus one patient who is a baker provided bread, a store managed by acquaintances furnished drinks, many other patients and personnel of the center contributed to the other costs … and the owner of the new amusement park in Conakry gave free entrance tickets and rides on the merry-go-round to everybody!
So, the appointment was made to meet at the gates of “October 2 Garden”, a genuine island of happiness for children, unfortunately too often inaccessible to the very poor.
Rain fell heavily during the night – as is often the case in the summer in Conakry, one of the rainiest cities in the world – discouraging some, but not all!
The activists were at the center preparing sandwiches even before the first light of dawn. And precisely at 9, the first children were at the gate, elegant and very happy!
In the course of the morning, the sun even came out, allowing everyone to celebrate outdoors and to close the day’s excursion with an excellent picnic: a complete success!
A meeting, organised by activists from the Usa River Mimi DREAM movement, was held recently in Chemchem, one of the five rural “councils” that make up the district where the DREAM centre is situated.
The objectives of the meeting were to raise awareness of the DREAM programme, to combat the ignorance and prejudice that surround the ways in which AIDS is spread; to give hope and encouragement to those who are sick or suspected of being so by talking about the availability and effectiveness of free treatment; to make those who live in a somewhat isolated situation feel the closeness and willingness of the centre to help.
Many rather poor and isolated villages can be found to the north and south along the main road that connects Arusha and Moshi. They are generally cut off from essential services such as health and education etc.
The Tanzanian authorities are worried by the fact that opportunities for treatment available in the big city have not reached the rural areas where instead there is regrettably a sense of resignation, choices based on discrimination and a certain return to superstitious practices.
These are the same concerns that have motivated DREAM to programme a series of meetings in various villages in Usa River and the adjacent districts so that even the most remote villages can have access to a proposal for treatment.
The meeting in Chechem therefore is only the first in a series of village assemblies that the Movement would like to organise in the coming months. It took place in an atmosphere of great cordiality and attentiveness. After a brief presentation by the head of the village, Tina, a Tanzanian DREAM doctor, began to speak about the Community of Sant’Egidio’s programme, explaining its history and emphasising the quality of the service it offers, the attention it pays to the individual, the gratuitous nature of the treatment which is available to everyone and the project’s particular commitment in favour of pregnant women. After this, four activists intervened by telling their personal story of healing.
At the end of the meeting there was much applause and many expressions of gratitude. It was clear to the people who had come that this had been an encounter with hope, that meeting together is a force which can bridge the gap that exists between the opportunity for treatment and the shortcomings of the information which reaches the villages, compounded by the lack of education, the cost of transport, and often a very hard life.
Chemchem means ‘source’ or ‘fountain’ in Swahili. It is DREAM’s hope that this meeting can really be a source of hope and trust for many, starting with those who live in a small village which is not even on the map and finishing with those who have not been met yet but who likewise long to hear the good news; that a cure exists, that it is available, that it is possible.