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Hope is the Spark that Changes Lives

While no one has found a cure for AIDS, there are scientifically validated preventative and palliative treatments for it. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) significantly delays the onset of AIDS in people living with HIV and prevents HIV+ pregnant or breastfeeding women from passing the disease onto their children. Contraceptives greatly reduce the chances of transmission during intercourse, and infant circumcision has a similar effect in the long term. These interventions work. We know that.

Part of the problem in scaling them up in AIDS-ravaged countries, however, is cultural and political denial, a blank refusal on the part of societies and, less often, governments to acknowledge the severity or even existence of the HIV/AIDS crises. Unfortunately, because HIV spreads through sex, something very private, and then lays dormant for years after transmission, it is easier to reject the causal link between HIV and AIDS. Moreover, because AIDS destroys the immune system but does not finish its victims off, denialists try to attribute deaths from AIDS to tuberculosis or other common diseases, which set in with ease after AIDS has removed the body of its defenses.

For an example of a government’s refusal to accept HIV as a cause of death, take the South African government pre-2009. Though the AFCA does not happen to work in South Africa, in the 2000s President Thabo Mbeki took to the extreme a pattern of denial that persists on a smaller and somewhat tamer scale elsewhere in Africa, including in the four countries in which we work. In South Africa, despite the near doubling of children’s AIDS prevalence between 2001 and 2007, the 7.7% increase of the prevalence rate during the same period, and more AIDS cases than in any other country but India, Mbeki consistently renounced the link between HIV and AIDS. Spurning civil society groups such as the impassioned Treatment Action Commission, he refused to spend government funds on ART, maintaining that the medicine was a waste. One Harvard study concluded that his negligence cost South Africa 300,000 lives.

In 2009, things changed abruptly. Anti-AIDS campaigner Jacob Zuma won the South African presidency, reversing Mbeki’s policies soon thereafter. Zuma actively and publicly sought to reduce the incidence of HIV. His efforts paid off. By 2011, 95% of HIV+ pregnant women were taking ART pills, preventing mother-to-child transmission. Moreover, Zuma’s government lowered the requirements for receiving ART—a moderate CD4 count (a measure of immune-system strength) of 350 rather than 200, at which point the prospective patient is already suffering in the clutches of the disease. Despite these changes, the tide of transmission still outweighs the government’s efforts. Prevalence rates continue to climb, but at a slower rate (3%) than during Mbeki’s presidency. In restricting, but not stopping, the spread of HIV, the South African government has saved many, many lives.

Obviously, as the case of South Africa demonstrates, lack of willingness on the part of African leaders to face AIDS does not fully explain why the disease persists. Another large part of the problem lies in the fact that, though the price of ARV has dropped in the last decade in response to loosening patent monopolies on the medicine, African governments seldom have the funds to provide treatment for all who need it. South Africa is by far the wealthiest country in Africa, and, even after election of Zuma, it still has not achieved full coverage. Nevertheless, denial is an important facet of this extraordinarily complex global health crisis. To understand why AIDS persists, we must understand why in some settings it goes unacknowledged and how we can work to encourage openness and educate Africans (and ourselves!!!) about this very real threat.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-15854793

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/nov/26/aids-south-africa

World Health Organization Statistics

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Without a doubt, the global HIV/AIDS pandemic is a multifaceted tragedy. Many Americans may view AIDS primarily as an unfortunate consequence of individual choice, a disease whose effects are regrettable but mainly limited to those who have ‘chosen’ to engage in unprotected sex. But AIDS has terrible consequences that reach far beyond the physical discomfort and subsequent deaths of immediate victims. In addition to causing extreme physical suffering for victims and severe emotional trauma for loved ones left behind, AIDS brings down the livelihoods of entire communities and the productivity of entire nations, especially in developing nations such as those in which we serve (Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo). AIDS does not merely affect those who have it; it is bad news for everyone, and citizens of developing countries seldom have the resources to acquire adequate treatments for it. This means that we, as first-world citizens who possess a dramatically disproportionate share of the world’s resources, must make fighting AIDS around the world a strong priority.

To illustrate the destructive effects that HIV/AIDS has on communities, consider the timing of most deaths caused by AIDS. Most victims contract HIV in their teenage years, many well before the end of puberty. This means that, because HIV lays dormant for about six years on average, the virus begins to manifest itself as AIDS during the early-to-mid-twenties, which is probably the least fortunate age possible. Both in the countries we operate in and in many, many others, most men and woman of that age have multiple, young children and are at their zenith in terms of economic productivity. Their families’ well-being and survival often depend on them, and, if they were to stick around, they could lend decades’ worth of support to their communities.

But way too often, young parents cannot stick around. They succumb to a disease they contracted as teenagers, and when they die, they leave behind orphans who require care. In this way, AIDS not only deprives young ones of their parents; it drains resources from communities that are already economically strapped. Grandparents—grandmothers in particular—often take orphaned grandchildren under their wing, but these older caretakers have less energy and more responsibilities (including other kids) than their deceased sons and daughters had. Sometimes, the orphans have no new caretakers at all; no one local is willing to share enough resources to provide for them, and they are left to fend for themselves.

AIDS causes other, more immediate, but equally devastating resource drains as well. Because AIDS weakens the immune system, making normally tolerable diseases lethal but not technically killing its victims, families will often rush AIDS victims to health facilities to treat these diseases when they set in. (That is, IF they are privileged enough to have such care within reach. In Uganda, for instance, health care access is under 70%.) By paying for extensive treatment, both for AIDS and for the disease it has made life-threatening, families willingly throw themselves into poverty, going into debt in hopes of saving their loved one. Many families struggle to repay their debt for many, many years, especially if the AIDS victim died, thereby damaging the family’s ability to work it off.

Finally, funerals can have a similar effect. In many developing countries, such as Kenya, funerals have a much greater cultural importance than in America. Not to hold an elaborate—and expensive—celebration of the deceased’s life is often considered negligent on the part of surviving relatives. In some places, as in some areas of Kenya, religious beliefs reinforce the attitude that expensive funerals are necessary; an improper send-off jeopardizes the deceased’s position in the afterlife. To put together an adequate funeral, then, families will take on debt beyond their means and struggle thereafter to repay it, sacrificing their well-being in the process. Changing these embedded cultural practices is difficult, and in any case, asking people to curb these spending practices may imply a dubious judgment on the part of the West. Who are we to say they should not spend money on their loved ones in this way? The poor, after all, do deserve to be celebrated. In any case, whether they should or not, the fact is that in developing countries around the world, the poor willingly become poorer in order to pay for funerals of loved ones who die of AIDS.

Clearly, AIDS is not just a disease; it is a cause (or an amplifier) of terrible poverty. Delaying the onset and severity of AIDS through interventions such as antiretroviral therapy not only assuages the suffering of the victim, it prevents the family and the community from having to shoulder all of the intertwined emotional and economic burdens associated with the victim’s death. In this way, the AFCA’s work in providing such interventions uplifts entire families and communities. Our question to the reader is, what will YOU do? For more information on ways you can get involved with our work against HIV/AIDS, visit our website, www.afcaids.org, or email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


 


 

What happens when you send a passionate Kenyan to Zimbabwe for a week?

He comes back trained in Foundations for Farming and begins nurturing a one acre plot of overgrown grasses into 48 beds for vegetable production!

Meet Steve (on left, with Katie).

Steve is the clinic Nutritionist and farm manager of the agriculture projects that Mombasa CBHC has started. In January, half of the acre was filled with tomatoes, kale, cilantro, peppers, and cowpea. Providing an under-story are several papaya trees and a few young banana plants. Other native bushes create a natural border around the plot, overseen (and shaded!) by two ancient, towering mango trees. It's become a visual paradise in the dry dusty season.

One of Katie's primary responsibilities in this agriculture project is to help develop a framework for educating a small group of the clinic's clients in gardening techniques and producing vegetables. In other words, she and Steve are learning how to be creative with what they have, limited resources, and re-imagining ways of feeding the clients' bodies with the proper nutrients. Throughout the month, part of the services that CBHC offers is the community of a support group. There is a specific group for guardians of children with HIV/AIDS and this is the target group where Katie is learning and working alongside. So far this month they have had five different training events at three clinic sites and have trained over 40 guardians!

What are they teaching? What plants need to grow, how to create a healthy soil environment for fruits and vegetables, and how to plan for and organize a vegetable bed. The Foundations for Farming training that Steve attended suggests that four key elements are essential to growing food:

  1. Seeding is done on time; 
  2. At a high standard; 
  3. With joy; and 
  4. Without waste.

While at ECHO, Katie also received training on FFF and its been exciting to see others, like Steve, begin to reap the benefits of applying the information they both received. The challenge is, there's more than just a formula for growing food, it's about developing a lifestyle of stewardship. In the upcoming weeks, they'll be visiting the guardians selected for a pilot project and begin to assist them in re-imagining the possibilities for small kitchen gardens using the resources available around their homes. cowpeas breaking earth

In just one month, Steve and Katie have nearly filled the entire acre plot with additional vegetable beds, planting them with cowpea—a great soil amendment, weed suppressant, and nutrient boost for the transplants in the upcoming short rainy season next month.

If home is where the heart is, Katie thinks her heart is in the soil

...well, and on the west coast of Senegal! See note below:

Many of you know that this December, an adventurous, insect-loving, faithful friend (by the name of Noah), proposed to an garden-loving, excited, curly red-head (me!). While assisting with an agroforestry project in western Senegal, Noah 's been collecting African insects, carrying seaweed by the bucketfuls for mulch, and developing another love in his life—that of tree regeneration! If you'd like to read of some of his experiences so far, visit http://arktick.blogspot.com . Katie and Noah are looking forward to sharing their african experiences in the same country in a few months when they both return from their assignments!


 


 

It's no secret, the busy pace of life in Mikindani: the shops aligning the main street, the daily football game around the six o'clock hour, the constant patter of footsteps up and own the stairs, or the swishing of water as it is splashed in an artistic manner—at the mercy of the mothers' hands downstairs. Dust becomes a cosmetic in this town, accompanied by daily perspiration. The heat is up! It's warm, its humid, and it's tropical. Yes, tropical; mangoes fill the fruit shops accompanied by pineapples and avocados, while banana trees dot the roadside. Colorful congas (designed material wrapped around the waist like a skirt) fill the streetscape and there is movement, music, business, and life – day in and day out.

Summary of New Assignment

This place has become my new home! It's called Mikindani. Just across the causeway from Mombasa Island, Mikindani is 'home base' for a series of community based health clinics throughout Mombasa island and the surrounding mainland villages. Its urban and bustling, no doubt. As an intern with AFCA (www.afcaids.org), I have joined the efforts of a community organization known as Community Based Health Care, (CBHC) Mombasa, to work on their agriculture project for children with HIV/AIDS. It's been exciting! CBHC provides many vital services to not only Mikindani, but eleven other villages in the surrounding area. Through support groups, education, health services, and now agriculture, many children and adults with HIV/AIDS are being treated, encouraged, and are moving out of poverty. My role is to assist the Nutritionist with trainings, for children served through the clinic, in gardening and small-scale agriculture techniques, while digging, transplanting, and imagining possibilities in the CBHC garden. (More to come next month!)

Transportation Here and There

One aspect I love about traveling is how diverse (and creative!) people are when they want to get from place to place. Foot, bicycle, horse, train, stilts, bus, car, camel, elephant, tuk tuk (3 wheeled tiny vehicle)...then there's the Kenyan matatu (van). Often filled to their maximum capacity, the matatus in our city are fast, colorful, music boxes that rewrite where the road goes and when you can travel on it. In other words, the get people from place to place but often with abrupt, creative stops along the way! It can be fun to ride, once you know the routes. Until then, though, I think I'll hold on tight! It will be my primary form of transportation in and out of the garden and surrounding community (besides by foot!)

A Familiar Miracle

The Project Coordinator at CBHC is a very peaceful, articulate, caring Nun from one of the local Catholic Parishes; her name is Sister Veronica. This week I had a chance to visit the farmland where CBHC has started to cultivate a larger portion of land. We stopped to visit the Ministry of Agriculture on our way and I noticed... a moringa tree! We asked the representative within if he knew anything about it and he didn't, but mentioned that a lady comes to harvest the leaves every once in a while. I smiled to myself because I had just spotted another tree along the road and had begun to explain its benefits to Sister Veronica on the way. I plucked a few leaves and tasted them and turning to Sister Veronica, hoped she would taste them too. (Curious about moringa too? Here's some insight from ECHO)

Then, one morning later this week, Sister Veronica called for me from her office window, “Kate, come to me for a moment” in a gentle Kenyan accent. She had a visitor within. The visitor was another Sister who introduced herself as 'one who knows about moringa!' She started sharing her personal experiences with it – her father was sick with TB, he consumed ½ spoon of moringa in his porridge three times a week and within a month, his health had improved. How excited this Sister was to speak about moringa! Her face was brightened, as the experiences she shared, you could tell, motivated her to share this knowledge with others.

Sister Veronica is convinced. She wants to start planting it this weekend. I feel positively about this momentum, too, as it could become a great asset to what is available for treating children that suffer from compromised immune systems, plus, it holds the potential to be an asset to the micro-enterprise options available for many people whom CBHC serves.

I will be in touch soon -

~ Katie

As is often the case, the words of the psalmists often bring encouragement through times of transition. Perhaps these will be for you as well...

Many are they who say of me,
"There is no help for him in God." Selah.
But You, O Lord, are a shield for me,
My glory and the One who lifts up my head.
I cried to the Lord with my voice,
And he heard me from His holy hill.
Selah.


 


 

We write grant requests all the time and from time to time, we receive great news of having been given one. Grants are hard to come by! But, the One Days Wages grant comes at a perfect time for us. It is a matching grant, which means that ODW will give $12,035 to AFCA if people donate the same amount to us.

With that in mind, please consider making a donation today at our project page on ODW's website. 100% of donations will be given to AFCA, so everything about this grant is excellent. And, of course, we will use 100% of the funds we receive directly for the kids. We will do what we said we will do. No questions asked.

Please support this initiative so that we can receive the matching grant! And, share with many, please.

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I read an article the other day that stirs hope in the fight against AIDS. I’ve summarized it here and trust that you, too, will be encouraged.

According to a December 20, 2011 article by Mallory Clarkson at www.londoncommunitynews.com, The University of Western Ontario announced that they are ready to begin human clinical trials for an HIV vaccine. The vaccine was developed using a killed whole virus strategy which is a different approach than was used in three failed human trials from 2003-2009.

In January 2012, the first phase of testing is scheduled to begin. During this phase 40 HIV-positive volunteers will enter the trial and the vaccine’s safety will be the central focus. The second phase will involve 600 HIV-negative volunteers who are at high risk for HIV infection. This part of the trial will measure immune responses. During the third and final phase, 6,000 HIV-negative volunteers in the high-risk category for HIV infection, will measure the efficiency of the vaccine as compared to a non-vaccinated group.

There is much anticipation that this vaccine will be successful. If it is, it will provide much hope to a world that desperately needs hope in the face of HIV/AIDS. It will be important for us to remember, though, that a vaccine is not a cure and millions of people will continue to need treatment for HIV and AIDS well into the future.


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The end of the year is days away and I find myself reflecting on the past year. The American Foundation for Children with AIDS, with the help of many generous people like you, has helped thousands of children in 2011. Here are just a few of the things we’ve accomplished in 2011.

  • Over five million doses of antibiotics were provisioned to PIDC, our partner in Uganda that serves children with HIV/AIDS through its network of a hospital and 75 clinics.
  • Fifty-two beautiful girls with HIV/AIDS are receiving love and medical care from a caring staff at St. Therese’s orphanage in Kenya and AFCA has provided nutritional support to them during a year of drought.
  • Nutrition by Prescription was provided for St. Mary’s Mission Hospitals in Elementita and Nairobi, Kenya. This allows patients who are weakened by malnourishment to quickly gain weight in order to be able to take the medicine they need in order to recuperate.
  • Two 40’ container of medical supplies and equipment were shipped to our partners in Kilembe Mines, Uganda, greatly improving their resources and enabling them to increase the quality and quantity of their service to children with HIV/AIDS in their communities.
  • One container of medical supplies and hospital beds, along with school supplies for 800 children was sent to our partner in Papoli, Uganda. The children were overjoyed when they were given their own school bags full of supplies and the clinic was excited to exchange bad beds for good ones, and to have new sutures, needles, gloves, nursery kits, and a myriad of other supplies at their disposal.
  • Nutritional support was sent in the form of an oat-based, highly nutritious porridge to both the Mombasa and the Voi projects in Kenya. During this year of famine, these containers of food have proven to be life-saving for over 6000 children and guardians.
  • Many families (numerous with children as head-of-household) in Zimbabwe received nutritional support this year. In addition, our partner, ZOE, is working with select families to resource them with chickens and goats so that they can produce their own food and eventually help other families in their communities do the same. AFCA has provided funds for the livestock given to the orphan families.
  • We visited Tandala Hospital and sixteen associated clinics in the Democratic Republic of Congo to further assess their needs and research options for getting a shipping container of medical supplies to them in 2012, as well as solar panels and all the components needed to provide electricity to each clinic and the hospital. In the meantime, we resourced them with antibiotics and look forward to doing much more in 2012.
  • We visited every one of our programs, ensuring that the children who are in our care are indeed, receiving what was promised them. In every case, we walked away happy to see how well the children are faring and knowing that the programs are working as they should.As I think about 2012, it promises to be a challenging year. International support for HIV/AIDS programs in Africa dropped significantly over the past couple years. As a result, many of our partners experienced the loss of aid and their budgets are stretched thin and some must decrease their support and care for children with HIV/AIDS.

So far, AFCA has been able to maintain our level of support to our partners, but we are also experiencing a decrease in financial support, which if not reversed, will mean a loss of services to children with HIV/AIDS within our programs. This will lead to higher levels of illness and ultimately, to death.

Please consider making a generous donation to the American Foundation for Children with AIDS, or become a monthly donor so that the children in our programs continue to receive care. Thank you!

Click here to make a donation.

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As some of you may know, I am currently in Ghana doing a semester study abroad at the University of Ghana. I just wanted to share some of my experiences in Africa so far. I’ve been here for about 2 months now but it feels like so much longer (in a good way!).

Everything starts early and ends early. The sun rises around 6am and sets by 6pm. I constantly talk about my “Ghana bedtime”. In college in United States, it would not be acceptable to go to bed by 10pm every night but here, it’s normal. And you’ve “slept in” if you manage to stay asleep until 8 or 9am!

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to travel quite a bit in these first two months. This is a picture of Wli Falls which is the highest waterfall in West Africa. It was about a 45 minute hike to get to the lower part of the falls and if you want to go to the upper part, it’s an hour and a half. My group only hiked to the lower part but we’re considering going back to hike to the top part. I just recently returned from a two-day trip to Lome, Togo, where I got to tour the Voodoo Fetish Market. Right when I got back, Yahoo! posted an article about the creepiest places in the world (click here) and the market was on the list!

The food here is probably the biggest thing I’ve had to adjust to. I normally don’t eat spicy food but there are only two options here—spicy and spicier. Fufu with groundnut stew is my new favorite food. Rather than chewing you simply dunk the fufu (which is pounded yams or plantains) into the stew and then swallow it whole. I found a recipe for groundnut stew and I highly suggest anyone and everyone try to make it (click here).

Ghana is fantastic and such an interesting cultural experience. One thing I have noticed is that they take HIV/AIDS very seriously. There are signs everywhere advocating for safe sex and HIV prevention which is fantastic. Provided the internet cooperates, I will try to continue to blog a little more about my experiences here.

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