Rock the Red Pump

I’m joining 1,000 bloggers today to “Rock the Red Pump” http://www.theredpumpproject.org/2011/03/were-proudly-rocking-the-red-pump-for-nwghaad/ in support of National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

I’ve chosen to write about Cheryl, a good friend of mine who, in 2009, traveled to South Africa to work with HIV+ patients at Acts Clinic.

Cheryl had an African Dream since she was 18. After her kids were raised, she began to bring this dream to fruition. She accrued holiday time. She worked a second job. She was granted time off.  She felt a bit fearful after the time off was given thinking “it’s now time to poop or get off the pot.”

Cheryl found information about the ACTS Clinic, applied to go, and was accepted to spend eight weeks with them helping. Her medical background as a pathology assistant no doubt helped in her being accepted to the Clinic. She continued to plan for her “volunteer vacation.”

I assisted Cheryl with the preparation of two presentations upon her return from South Africa. One was given to her work colleagues and one to a group of our mutual friends. I learned so much and the stories of those affected by HIV touched me deeply.  I felt like I’d been there, too. Emotionally, I was.  I am “Rocking the Red Pump” to bring awareness to women in South Africa that live with HIV.

FACTS ABOUT ACTS

ACTS Clinic http://www.actsclinic.co.za/is located in Peebles Valley, Mpumulanga Province, South Africa.

Location of ACTS Clinic

Founded by Dr. Margie Hardman, who launched the AIDS Care Training and Support Initiative in February 2000 (a non-profit, faith-based organization) with a generous donation from Glaxo-Smith-Kline. GSK’s donation was sufficient to purchase land, construct the clinic and training centre, and pay for operational costs for three years.  Since they opened in 2001, they have consulted and treated over 12,000 patients.

Their mission:

“to provide a quality continuum of care and support to all those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, and to model this in the Masoyi Tribal Area of Mpumalanga, South Africa.”

AIDS and HIV in South Africa:

  • In 2007 an estimated 5.7 million HIV+ in SA with 1,000 AIDS death per day.
  • Extreme poverty
  • High unemployment, about 65%
  • Poor Infrastructure
  • One third of sexually active population HIV +
  • Virtually every household in the community has at least one HIV positive inhabitant.

STIGMA

HIV Stigma is a Huge Problem

Factors Contributing to Stigma

  • HIV is a life threatening disease
  • HIV is associated with sexual behaviors
  • HIV is a result of irresponsibility
  • HIV is an infection that some believe is a moral or religious punishment for immoral behaviors.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon says

“Stigma remains the single most important barrier to public action.  It is a main reason why too many people are afraid to see a doctor to determine whether they have the disease, or to seek treatment if so.  It helps make AIDS the silent killer, because people fear the social disgrace of speaking about it, or taking easily available precautions.  Stigma is a chief reason why the AIDS epidemic continues to devastate societies around the world.”

He continues:

“We can fight stigma.  Enlightened laws and policies are key.  But it begins with openness, the courage to speak out.  Schools should teach respect and understanding.  Religious leaders should preach tolerance.  The media should condemn prejudice and use its influence to advance social change, from securing legal protections to ensuring access to health care.”

SOUTH AFRICAN WOMEN AND HIV

Elsie

WOMEN

  • more susceptible to the virus as they have so much more mucosa, comparing surface of a vagina to the tip of the man’s urethra
  • with 5.7 million HIV positive people in South Africa, 60% are women, 40% are men.
  • Women are nothing in the South African culture
  • Women with HIV are sometimes treated differently from men where they are culturally, socially and economically disadvantaged.  They are perceived to be the ones who transmit the disease and men are more likely to be excused for the behavior that caused their condition.
  • by age 15 and extending to age 30, female exposure is greater than 2-3 times the male rate
  • thought to be a result of some community issues
  • there is a sharp decline of older women with HIV is largely due to the death rate and as women die, the male takes the lead in rates of HIV infection at 35 years.  As for the increase in men over 50…who knows!

People living with HIV in developed nations can have the best of health care. For example, in Canada, medications that cost approximately $1,000.00 per month are provided free of charge to HIV patients as well as free counseling.

By contrast, many people in South Africa and other nations die of HIV because they can’t afford (and aren’t given) medications that cost $88.00 per month.

Cheryl struggled deeply with the fact that God seems to have abandoned the women, children and men who are HIV+ in South Africa:

Cheryl with Polite, a little girl infected with HIV through breast milk

“My spiritual questioning went deeper, further…

God, why is this precious little girl infected with HIV from nursing?  Where are you?  Do you care?

God, why the children, why?

God, where are you for them?

God, this is too much.”

“I have come to realize how perspective changes over the course of time.  You go away for a few weeks to help, I think the Christian community calls it mission.  And on returning the actual mission begins.  While the hearts of a few volunteers pull together to help with individual situations, I was under no illusion that my presence would make any sort of a lasting impression.  You leave and eventually are forgotten but the lingering personal experiences are where the true mission lies.  And the course of time continues to change those impressions as greater understanding is given.” – Cheryl

From ACTS Clinic's website

Cheryl “Got Her Pump On” by going to ACTS Clinic.  My involvement, by contrast, was minimal but I’m proud to spotlight her on my blog. She is an inspiration!