Tag Archives: health

Fathers, Daughters, and Denial Turned Activism

Hassan found out he was HIV positive in 2010. He and his wife had long split up – but when he found out she had passed away, Hassan had a feeling he knew why.

“My brother is a doctor in California,” Hassan said. “He tested me for HIV years before, but didn’t tell me the truth because he was scared of my reaction. Deep down, I knew what he couldn’t tell me.”

Eventually, Hassan visited Alive Medical Services to be tested and treated for HIV. At first, the medication made him dizzy, weak, and drowsy – but after speaking with the doctors, he was switched to the same antiretrovirals he has been on ever since.

“When I first found out I had HIV, I was heartbroken,” Hassan said. “I was in denial until I went through intensive counselling at AMS. They helped me work through what I was feeling.”

Because he hadn’t felt symptoms until a few months before his diagnosis, Hassan had no idea the virus had also touched his daughter. She was just 12 years old at the time she was tested, and at such a young age, Hassan was unsure how to tell her the truth.

The two developed an unspoken routine: Hassan and his daughter would take their medication together in the morning. It wasn’t until Hassan’s daughter saw another student at school taking the same medication that she started asking questions.

Understanding the value of proper disclosure, Hassan sought support from the AMS counseling department. He sat his daughter down to tell her the truth, finally revealing the secret he’d been keeping for two years.

“Will we die?” Hassan’s daughter asked.

“No,” Hassan answered. “If we keep taking our medication, we will live long, healthy lives.”

Today, Hassan’s daughter is an activist in her community. She takes after her father, who is outspoken about HIV, stigma, and the availability of free HIV resources both in person and online. By speaking out about HIV at school, Hassan’s daughter has mentored a number of HIV-positive children, helping them adhere to their medication and stay optimistic about their futures.

“She’s strong and vigilant,” Hassan said. “I couldn’t be prouder of who she has become.”

Food, Education and Hope: The Nutrition Program at AMS

Twice a month, food is laid outside the doors of AMS. As the clinic swells with patients, doctors walk from left to right, spreading nutrition information. One by one, AMS’ community health workers call out clients’ names, all of whom have been previously measured for severe food insecurity. After nurses assess their health status, each client receives seven kilograms of rice, seven kilograms of beans, two kilograms of sugar, and a bag of fresh vegetables.

One of those clients is Esther, a 35-year-old HIV-positive mother and a patient at AMS. Esther’s partner left her a year ago, making it nearly impossible to juggle her job – selling roasted meat alongside the roads of Kampala – with the care of her one-month-old baby, Sharidah, and two other children.

Without her partner’s support, Esther’s income dwindled; she could no longer afford to eat properly. Her breastmilk began to run out, causing Sharidah to lose weight drastically and rapidly.

“At one point, my children would wake up every morning with no food on the table,” Esther said. “Sharidah was so weak, and so was I. I didn’t know what to do.”

On her next visit, AMS staff took note of Sharidah’s weight loss. AMS enrolled the family in AMS’ food program, and started the baby on food aid. At the same time, AMS educated Esther on proper infant feeding practices.

In the four months since then, Sharidah’s health has greatly improved: she’s gained nearly four kilograms, and smiles and laughs easily. She’s even built up enough strength to stand and walk on her own.

Once Sharidah’s weight stabilizes, AMS will phase the family out of the food program. Regardless, we will continue to support them through other initiatives. AMS engages more than 300 HIV positive clients in our gardening program, for example, which is made up of 18 different clubs. By teaching clients how to plant, grow, harvest and sell their own crops, we help clients raise their incomes (and eat healthy food) in a sustainable way.

“Because of AMS, I have high hopes for the future,” Esther said. “HIV – and my other challenges – cannot bring me down.”

Meet Julian, a Counsellor at Alive Medical Services

Every day, patients gather outside Alive Medical Services’ counselling rooms. They filter in and out of the offices in a seemingly endless procession, waiting for their turn to catch up with our counsellors. One of those counsellors is named Julian, but everyone knows her as Mummy J.

Her nickname came about not only because of her palpable kindness, but also because of her strength – and her ability to support people in the darkest of situations.

“I’ve carried that name everywhere I go,” Julian said. “When I was a child, I took care of the other children. When I was in school, I was the mother of the class. And as a counsellor, I look after my clients. Being mummy was always part of me.”

Julian has been nurturing those around her for as long as she can remember. She lost her parents to AIDS-related illnesses at ages 11 and 13, tragedies that forced Julian to grow up quickly. Though still young herself, she became a leader in a rapidly growing family of HIV-affected orphans; Julian’s aunt, who she had been sent to live with, took in Julian and 20 other children who had nowhere else to turn.

“It was like a big orphanage, or a refugee camp,” Julian said. “In those days, HIV touched everyone. Death was an everyday occurrence, and my aunt – though strict – was the hope of our family.”

Julian lived with her aunt in Wakiso until she got married at age 18. Throughout that time, she cooked, cleaned, and took care of the younger children, constantly putting their needs before her own. It was only until after she was married that Julian revisited her childhood dream of becoming a nurse – but even then, school fees made such an occupation impossible.

In the first years of her marriage, Julian and her husband struggled. They were living in chronic poverty, and because her husband’s job in construction was not enough to support their family, she picked up a job as a domestic servant. The job was a starting point, an entryway to higher education, but Julian gave it everything she had.

Little by little, Julian saved up enough money to begin attending classes again – but this time, it wasn’t a nursing career she was after. Instead, she decided to go down a different path: counselling.

“I performed well in school because I realized I was doing exactly what I was supposed to do,” Julian said. “And exactly what I had been doing for years. I know that sometimes, people just need someone to listen. I’ve been there, and I know the power of love.”

Soft-spoken and warm, Julian’s essence makes people feel valued, listened to, and supported. She had always connected easily with people, and those strengths reaffirmed her decision to become a counsellor in a medical setting, as she knew the toll HIV could take on a person’s life.

After completing her studies, Julian began working at AMS in 2010. Since then, she’s seen countless clients, helping people recover and rebuild through the strength of her words. Barbara, a counsellor in Julian’s department, said she has a way of understanding the clients.

“She’s good at listening, and she always goes the extra mile for the patients,” Barbara said.

Still, it’s not just the patients Julian touches at AMS – she has had an impact on each member of the AMS staff. Nearly every morning, she leads the team in song and dance, bringing light to a day that is often filled, by nature of an HIV-clinic, with difficult, trying experiences. Jenifer, a monitoring and evaluation officer, described Julian as a giver, something that goes hand-in-hand with kindness.

“I do what I can to help people smile,” Julian said. “It’s all about building hope in a hopeless situation.”

Meet Beatrice, the Head of Nursing at AMS

Ever since she could remember, Beatrice wanted to be a nurse.

“I saw a lot of suffering around me,” she said. “Even at a young age, I wanted to learn how to help.”

Beatrice loved connecting with people, and she admired the way nurses cared for their patients – not only delivering essential medical care, but providing emotional support alongside it. To achieve her dreams, Beatrice was trained as both a nurse and a midwife, and moved to Kampala after getting married in 2000. Soon after, Beatrice began working as a midwife for a Bukasa-based medical center.

Today, Beatrice is the head of Alive Medical Services’ (AMS) nursing department. She was one of the first staff members at AMS, joining the team when the clinic opened in 2007. At that time, AMS had just one building and six patients, but her friendship with AMS founder Dr. Pasquine cemented her trust in the organization. In the decade since, Beatrice has had a front-row seat of AMS’ expansion: she watched one building turn into three, and six patients turn into more than 13,000.

“I love what I do,” Beatrice said. “I understand the clients and I take pride in helping them. I encourage them, and try to provide them with the support they need to keep on living.”

When she first began working at AMS, Beatrice conducted deliveries as a midwife. Over time, AMS has shifted its activities to focus on pre- and post-natal care, supporting mothers not only as they prepare for delivery, but as they continue caring for their children years after. To ensure safe births, we provide pregnant mothers with referrals to trusted hospitals, and continue following up with mothers throughout their children’s lives.

As head of AMS’ nursing department, Beatrice sees over a team of four, whose responsibilities are vast and varied. Nurses work with patients immediately upon their arrival to the clinic, taking their vital signs and measurements, and recording their data for the doctors. They also administer patients’ treatment, check on those in the inpatient wards, deliver health education sessions, and provide family planning services, among other essential activities. Beatrice is also in charge of AMS’ stock; in this role, she monitors all medicine moving in and out of the clinic.

“It feels good to help people,” Beatrice said. “And the impact we make feels important.”