A snippet of good news rocked the DREAM centre of Conakry in Guinea a few days ago. The news boosted the hopes of everyone, workers and patients, and gave a glimpse of a different, better future for many children living in the African continent.
A spontaneous, well-attended party welcomed the great news of the certain negative status of the first child born on the (mother-to-child) vertical prevention programme, which was started by DREAM in Guinea something over a year ago.
This was the result of a check-up routinely carried out in this type of programme at a fixed time after the birth, to verify that a child born to an HIV-positive mother did not get the virus from his or her mother.
In effect, DREAM has chosen to place vertical prevention at the heart of all efforts and treatment activities undertaken in its structures. It is a choice to safeguard the future of Africa, to ensure that a generation of children free of HIV is born in the continent. In DREAM centres, as happens in the Northern Hemisphere, the administration of antiretroviral drugs to the pregnant woman – apart from saving the mother’s life – brings down the quantity of the virus in her blood so rapidly and significantly that its transmission to the newborn is avoided (this is what happens in 98% of cases).
Well then, the monitoring test carried out on the baby girl M’Mahawa, gave the certainty that there was no HIV in her blood. The little girl – who we hope and are certain is the first of a long series (more than 120 children were born on the programme so far and as many pregnancies are currently being followed up at the centre) – was HIV-negative.
Her mother was so happy; she clapped her hands and was beside herself with joy when she saw the result of the test. That day, a UNAIDS representative was present at the DREAM centre, and he heartily congratulated the mother, who proudly basked in the attention lavished on her daughter. Military doctors, who were at the centre thanks to an agreement signed in July with the Guinean army, were also visibly moved.
M’Mahawa received a gift, a lovely little dress with flowers, so she could take part in the universal joy too.
On 6 September, the DREAM centre of Conakry received a very welcome gift: 10 tons of rice, given by the Health Minister, Mrs Hadja MaimounaBah.
The two hundred sacks of rice came as a gift after a visit by the Prime Minister on 7 August. On that occasion, Lansana Kouyaté, impressed by the activities of DREAM and by the testimony of the patients, committed himself to supporting the centre, which now cares for and treats more than 1,300 people. Of these, 500 also benefit from the food supplementation programme.
Rice, beans, salt, oil and sugar are fundamental supplies for many families of Conakry, especially at this time, when prices of basic essential items continue to rise. The struggle against AIDS is also fought through countering malnutrition among the most vulnerable: women and children.
|On 7 August 2007, the DREAM centre of Conakry received an eagerly anticipated and important visit from Prime Minister Lansana Kouyaté, whose appointment as head of government put an end, last winter, to a period of strikes and violent unrest in the country. The Prime Minister, who was accompanied by the Health Minister and by the Executive Secretary of CNLS, was welcomed by dances and songs performed by infected people who frequent the centre, and who were there, as always, in large numbers.|
|The Prime Minister spent a considerable amount of time visiting the centre, showing interest in all aspects of the programme: treatment, laboratory, nutritional aid and support for sick people, and prevention of mother-to-child transmission. Then he took time to speak to the patients, many of whom wanted to express their gratitude to DREAM and to the Community.|
|Adama, a woman who speaks only poula, told how, before coming across DREAM, she had to choose whether to use the little money she had on food or medicines:
“Today I have both things free-of-charge and I thank God for this.” Ousmane Doukouré,
who held in her arms her baby daughter, born healthy thanks to the vertical prevention programme, drew attention to the reality that many people in the country are without treatment and are waiting for the good news – about care – to reach them.
|Maria Mamy explained how healing was not only the fruit of medicines but also of welcome and friendship that taught one to hope. Djaka, an elderly woman, thanked the Prime Minister for his visit: “By coming among us, you have shown that you do not disdain us, as unfortunately is often the case. Many of us have been discriminated against, chased away and distanced by our very families; but in this centre we have found a new family, fathers and mothers who take care of us and do not abandon us.”|
|Lansana Kouyaté started his address by saying he was impressed by the atmosphere of serenity and welcome, and by the joy of the infected people: “There are many problems, but no problem is without a solution: God made you come across the DREAM centre and this is your resurrection.” Then he thanked the Community for its serious and concrete commitment to the poorest of the poor of the world, and because it represents a model of a new humanity.|
|He said he was struck by the “western” standards of the centre and added that DREAM should be the treatment model that all of Guinea should look to. “DREAM is a pilot project for Guinea and all of us should take it as an example, starting from the way in which sick people are welcomed and accompanied.”|
On 31 July, a protocol of agreement was signed between DREAM and the Guinean army in Conakry, at the management base of the Army Health Services, in Samory Touré camp. General Bailo Diallo, Defence Minister, signed the agreement on behalf of the army.
The agreement paves the way for the enrolment of dozens of HIV-positive soldiers on the DREAM programme in the coming weeks, to start receiving antiretroviral treatment.
At the same time, DREAM has undertaken to form health personnel belonging to the army, in view of the launching of a treatment service in the military hospitals of the capital.
A number of army doctors and nurses have already embarked on a formation course and practical placements at the DREAM centre itself.
|In recent weeks, the DREAM centre of Conakry has seen a considerable growth in the number of its patients. The good news that the centre exists has started to spread across this poor and tough city.
A city wholly built along a rocky ridge that juts right out until the sea, where settlements of shacks and huts have amassed in a haphazard fashion as hundreds of thousands people moved towards the capital (an imposed choice because the land all around is no longer rocky but marshy). An enormously long city, whose last neighbourhood is significantly called km36.
|The recent increase is especially evident in the number of pregnant women. Some agreements with maternity clinics in Conakry have paved the way for the referral to the DREAM centre of pregnant women who test positive for HIV, so that they will be able to start prevention of vertical transmission of AIDS as soon as possible.
Some doctors and nurses of the Guinean army recently started, in the premises of the DREAM centre itself, to undergo a formation course and also to do practical placements, in view of the opening of a service providing antiretroviral treatment in military hospitals of the capital.
|This is a mark of the hope that the institution vests in DREAM, but it is also, for DREAM, an expression of the desire to contribute to and to accompany the pacification and social and economic rebuilding process which the country is facing, after having overcome the crisis and tensions of the first months of the year.
The Guinean people are a people who have suffered much.
However, beyond the poverty and degradation enveloping the lives of most of the people, beyond the lack of infrastructures, means and opportunities, in the crooked alleyways that separate the thousands of shacks which practically make up the entire city, in the chaos of the embouteillages that paralyse the streets from Monday to Friday, the people of Conakry anyhow live with exceptional grace and composure, and with the desire to build a new society. The willingness to work to improve the situation of the country may be discerned in many.
|Guinea has had a difficult history. But every history can find its turning point.
DREAM has never contemplated surrendering in the face of difficulties nor has it ever believed that are limitations are invincible, be they cultural or environmental. The programme wants to make an ever deeper impact on the lives of those people who have entrusted themselves to its services, to make their lives less difficult, less weighed down by the burdens posed by an inhuman background.
DREAM wants to be a stable point of reference which many men, women and children who desire a different future, may look to.
It was in this scenario that health education and nutrition activities undertaken at the centre were recently intensified.