A training course for health personnel took place in Kinshasa last week, organized by the DREAM Program of the Community of Sant’Egidio, called “The challenges behind HIV therapy and the HIV/TB co-infection in Africa”. Amongst the topics discussed were the shift to the third line of antiretrovirals and the use of the resistance test. The course was attended by 40 doctors, nurses and paramedic personnel from the DREAM center in Kinshasa and other local health centers and hospitals which collaborate with the DREAM Program in various ways, as well as representatives of the personnel of the DREAM center in Mbandaka (Équateur Province) and the Bandundu area. The course was held from the start by Professor Pasquale Narciso, an experienced infectious disease specialist in Europe, and a health consultant from the DREAM Program. The combined experience from both the African and European fronts laid the foundations for high-level training and impact at a local level. The attendees actively participated by presenting complex cases which they had to tackle over the course of their careers and welcomed the effort and effectiveness of sharing experience and know-how. A collective wish to participate in similar high-level courses was shared by the attendees, but most of all everyone felt more united and powerful in tackling the challenges posed by the HIV disease and tuberculosis together, which still take many lives in Kinshasa and the DRC.
In occasion of the presence of Prof. Narciso, a conference took place at the Medical School of the Kinshasa Unikin State University titled “The HIV virus and its resistances to antiretroviral drugs”. The conference was aimed at about 50 final year students, doctoral students and interns specializing in infectious diseases. Following the interest generated by the conference, the Dean of the Faculty, who was also the moderator during the event, asked DREAM to draw up an exchange agreement with the University to host the young doctors in training. This would give them the chance to put to practice on the field the theory acquired during their studies, all in a context of excellence.
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.
The DREAM Program is present in the DRC since 2009 in Mbandakà and since 2011 in Kinshasa with the opening of the Floribert Bwana Center, built thanks to the contribution of the Association “Bambini del Danubio” and the Assicurazioni Generali Group.
The Association “Bambini del Danubio” and its President, Dr. Sergio Balbinot, have always supported the development of the DREAM Program in the country over the years with their practical support and necessary solidarity. The wish to treat the less fortunate by adopting modern methods and approaches of excellence, cost-free, have linked the Association “Bambini del Danubio” and the DREAM Community of Sant’Egidio foundation from the start. The two associations found themselves close and supportive of one another, sharing the work and the hope to make treatment available to the underprivileged sick, such as in Congo or children coming from poor countries, who are treated free of charge in Italy.
Thanks to this friendship and practical support, guaranteed by the Association “Bambini del Danubio”, the DREAM Program today represents in the DRC the best example of a cost-free treatment of excellence against HIV.
In these past few days in view of the spirit of great synergy and collaboration, but also due to the mutual goals, a new agreement was signed, which will allow the DREAM Program to sustain its activities thanks to the necessary resources guaranteed by the Association, allowing the Program to continue treating the sick in Congo.
Over these years of hard work and great friendship with many, DREAM met men and women who made its work possible in Africa amongst the sick. The Association “Bambini del Danubio” was among these from the start.
An important Training Course has just been completed in the DREAM Center in Kinshasa. The strategy in fighting AIDS constantly requires more and more commitment, in view of the WHO’s goal to reach by 2020 “90, 90, 90” (90% of the population tested, 90% treated with antiretrovirals, 90% with a viral load under control). In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (data from 2014) 78% of women and 85% of men do not have access to the test: the screening of HIV is therefore an absolute priority. Hence the strategic choice of the DREAM Program of the Community of Sant’Egidio: giving 25 health workers “au pair” (patients who chose to testify on how to face the disease living a normal and peaceful life) the ability to test and give counseling to many other people, in the health centers, at school, in workplaces. Activists of the Program originating from Kinshasa and Mbandaka, but also from other organizations currently involved in the fight against the stigma, participated with great interest in three days of intense work. The course included theory, practice and roleplaying, but also the sharing of experience with other centers such as the DREAM Center in Conakry where the coordinator, Fatoumata Sylla, faces very complicated situations on a daily basis. With this “pilot” course in mind, the first of its kind, the added Director of the PNLS (National Plan for the Fight against AIDS) wanted to personally deliver the certificates. After visiting the Center and meeting the Course’s participants, he congratulated DREAM for its humanity, combined with quality, that make it a model for the country. Managing to “dominate” the disease in just a few years is a difficult thing to achieve. Also thanks to DREAM, and to this new training model, it is already possible.
Dopo il grande pranzo di Natale, che per la prima volta è stato fatto al Centro DREAM grazie alla solidarietà ed al contributo suscitato dai molti amici di “Je Dream”, e che ha raccolto 190 persone, in gran parte bambini, ecco oggi una visita importante: Mons. Luis Mariano Montemajor, da pochi mesi nominato Nunzio Apostolico a Kinshasa, già da tempo conosce il lavoro per la pace della Comunità di Sant’Egidio, venendo dal Senegal dove ha visto il grande impegno per la pace in Casamanche.
Qui a Kinshasa, dando seguito alla preoccupazione di Papa Francesco per la pace ed il dialogo nel paese, ha iniziato un prezioso lavoro di visite ed incontri. In questo si inserisce la visita al centro DREAM, luogo di pace e di speranza per la vita di centinaia di persone. “Continuate in questo lavoro per il bene dei più fragili in questa città!” è stato il suo incoraggiamento a seguito della visita. Un incontro lungo e cordiale, che ha permesso di mettere in luce l’eccellenza di un progetto di cura non più solo dell’HIV, ma di molte altre malattie. Dopo un Natale di Misericordia, davvero una visita che incoraggia tutti, all’inizio di questo Anno Santo che ha aperto la sua prima porta Santa proprio nel cuore dell’Africa.
Have access to clean water in the world, and especially in poor countries, means ensuring the right to health. A right often denied to the people of the poorest areas of Africa.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, about one third of the population still has no access to drinking water; (Joint Program WHO / UNICEF for the supply of water services and public hygiene (Joint Monitoring Program for Water Supply and Sanitation). WHO/UNESCO (2010). Progress on Sanitation and Drinking water: 2010 Update. Geneva: WHO Press)
Not having access to clean water means increasing the risk of suffering from gastro-intestinal diseases that can be quite serious; it is enough to consider that 16% of child deaths globally are caused by diarrhea.
To get water for themselves and the family is quite a job, especially for girls and young women, who therefore drop out of school in order to cater to this precious liquid; also, every day it is needed to face a journey of several hours. UNICEF data says that the search for water does absorb 40 billion hours a year, and in fact, for 71% on the shoulders of women and girls.
Even inhabitants of large cities have difficulty in being connected to the water distribution networks, but not only is the number of inhabitants supplied with water low, but the supply itself is sporadic, especially because of the state of decay of the pipes, and the bad quality of the water.
As written by Pope Francis in the recent Encyclical “Praised be ” Clean, drinking water is a major issue, (…) A particularly serious problem is that of the quality of the water available to the poor, which causes many deaths every day. (..) While the quality of the available water constantly gets worse, in some places there is a trend to privatize this scarce resource, transforming it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market. In fact, access to clean and safe water is an essential human right, fundamental and universal, because it determines the survival of the people, and this is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. This world has a serious social debt to the poor who have no access to drinking water because that means denying them the right to life which is rooted in their inalienable dignity.”
This is why DREAM in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has been providing already for some time free water for families in the area, from the well dug to supply the DREAM center in the neighborhood of Bibwa. It is possible to go every morning to the gates of the DREAM center and access the fountain that draws water from a deep and safe well, thanks to the technological equipment installed at the center, which has become a new service for the population of the district, where there is still an aqueduct and the water needs to be bought. Everything has to be paid in Kinshasa, even a glass of water, in a country where it is rather hot for most months of the year!
Therefore, the DREAM center in the district, which from the start has meant the rebirth to a new life, new hopes for development, and access to free health care, has taken on the meaning, with the possibility of access to drinking water, of a real “village pump” around which we celebrate the joy of life.