HIV Treatment Alone is not Enough
By: Peter Twyman | April 29th, 2014
While visiting Alive Medical Service (AMS) in Kampala in January, I was reminded once again that for people living with HIV, medicine is not enough.
There, I met a teenage girl—I’ll call her Linda—a client at AMS, who four months earlier had given birth to a baby boy. Linda brought her son to the clinic that day for a check-up. I learned later that the infant had an infection, but that the team of doctors was taking good care of him.
Linda, who is sixteen, living with HIV and a new mother, is lucky to have access to the outstanding clinical care, counseling, nutritional support and other services provided by AMS, not only for herself, but also for her baby. But is it enough?
I have spoken to many young women like Linda who struggle to fulfill daily necessities, such as having enough food to eat, clean water to drink, and a safe place to live. And then there are other worries—like their future: Will they be able to continue their education? How will they pay for their child’s education? Will they find work to support themselves and a family? And for Linda, will being an HIV-positive teenage mother subject her to debilitating stigma and discrimination in her community?
But something wonderful happened while Linda was at the clinic that week. That day, our partner, long-time American AIDS-activist, Mary Fisher and her team, were on site training a group of women to craft their signature bracelet, part of her latest project, 100 Good Deeds.
Mary and her team, who train women living with HIV to make the bracelets, had recently visited Haiti, South Africa, and Zambia. Once trained, the women are given supplies, and a portion of proceeds from each bracelet made, which can provide a living wage that, sadly, is often out of reach for many women from Namawango, the community served by AMS.
So Linda joined the training, learned quickly, and is now one of the women enjoying the benefits of this great project. Because of her skill, she has also been called on to teach others.
I am confident that this opportunity will be transformative for Linda and her son, as well as the other women trained. Their earnings will help them to not just survive, but to save and invest, perhaps to further their education or to start a small business, and to take care of both their children and their families.
Proper treatment and care can, thankfully, alleviate the pain and suffering associated with HIV. It helps people live longer lives and gives them hope for a better future. But, if we don’t address the extreme poverty associated with HIV (a force that drives the epidemic), we are only doing half the work.
At Keep a Child Alive we are thinking a lot these days about what it will take to keep children and families living with HIV healthy for the long run. The 100GD project is just one example of how we are exploring innovative ways of creating economic opportunities for our clients.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Comment below.