On Saturday, January 20, approximately 100 clients came together for a peer-to-peer adherence counselling workshop at Alive Medical Services.
The event provided a platform for HIV positive clients to come together, discuss adherence and viral load suppression, and link to existing psychosocial and income-generating groups at AMS. Many participants signed up for AMS’ Peer Network Group, all of whom will be encouraged to meet quarterly to engage with one another, socialize, and provide peer support.
AMS will synchronize participants’ appointment dates, helping to facilitate Peer Network Group meetings and reduce travel costs for clients. In addition, AMS is creating focus groups focused on psychosocial, economic, and developmental growth, allowing clients to discuss more specific topics with their peers in the future.
“The event created a safe space for clients to connect and network,” said Beatrice Mujuni, a member of the workshop coordination team. “It was a great turnout.”
Throughout the day, clients were given space to introduce themselves, interact with one another, and participate in a number of different activities, including a group music therapy session. They also engaged in focus group discussions on adherence and viral load suppression.
Highlights of the event included a speech from Dr. Stephen Watiti, a renowned doctor and HIV/AIDS activist, and a performance by the Canaan Gents, a Kampala-based acapella group. Dr. Watiti spoke to clients about his own experiences fighting not only HIV, but cancer, tuberculosis, and meningitis.
As the first doctor in Uganda to go public about his HIV status, Dr. Watiti was able to deeply connect with the clients; he even gave out his phone number to the group, encouraging clients to reach out to him with health concerns.
The event culminated in voluntary medical consultations for interested clients.
Growing up, George knew he wanted to be a doctor. He was good at math and biology, and he idolized his uncle, a well-known doctor in his Lira community.
“My uncle had a passion for his patients, and I respected that,” George said. “I wanted to learn to do what he did – so I studied clinical medicine, community health and public health.”
After finishing his studies, George got a job with Medicines Sans Frontiers (MSF) in Northern Uganda. He was stationed in Lira and Kitgum, where he worked with children in two therapeutic feeding centres that served as referral points for health facilities throughout the region. He had studied malnutrition and its effects at university, but seeing such issues in person changed the course of George’s life.
After two years with MSF, George moved to Kampala to continue his studies at the International Health Sciences University. Right down the road, Alive Medical Services (AMS) was growing at a rapid pace. Though only in existence for three years, word about the small clinic was spreading.
“One thing I noticed immediately was the teamwork,” said George, speaking of his impressions after first visiting AMS. “Seven years later, that teamwork is one of the major reasons I continue to work hard today.”
Eventually, a spot opened up at AMS. George took it, and immediately, he began noticing an all-too-common trend, something he had seen regularly in the refugee camps in the north. Many of his HIV positive clients were malnourished, running the risk of never getting better due to lack of food.
“Good nutrition and antiretroviral treatment reinforce each other,” George said. “When a client is taking ARVs but not eating well, they’ll never get better.”
George took it upon himself to expand AMS’ nutrition programming. Every quarter, AMS now screens more than 5,000 clients for malnutrition. Twice a month, we provide packages of rice, beans, sugar and vegetables to thousands of families in food crisis.
In 2014, George took over AMS’ budding gardening program, which trains HIV positive clients to grow healthy food in their own neighbourhoods. George began training multiple groups of clients from across Central Uganda, including patients in Kampala, Mukono, Kapeeka and beyond. Today, there are 18 established gardening groups of AMS clients, all of whom cultivate produce for subsistence and sale.
To strengthen his knowledge of nutrition even further, recently, George went back to school to receive a master’s degree in human nutrition. He has continued to work full-time at AMS, helping clients better understand the value of nutrition through counselling, nutrition check-ups, and health talks.
“Nutrition is critical for people managing HIV,” George said. “We can’t leave it behind.”
Donate to Alive Medical Services by tomorrow, December 31, before 3:59 p.m. Uganda time (and 11:59 p.m. EST) to increase your impact for women and children affected by HIV.
To finish off 2017 in the most impactful way possible, Alive Medical Serves launched an end of year fundraising campaign at the end of November, Stop the Cycle of HIV: Support Women and Children. Our online fundraising partner, GlobalGiving, has provided so many different opportunities for our supports’ donations to be amplified through the holiday season.*
We’re so close to reaching our goal – but we’re not there yet! We still need your help to support all the infants, children, youth, women, mothers, and grandmothers currently in our care.
Thank you so much for your support this holiday season. Our work would never be possible without your generosity and compassion!
* all donations made on our GlobalGiving project page are tax deductible for U.S. donors. And, U.K donors can claim Gift Aid when they donate in GBP!
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.”
When Nadia was 10 years old, she was hospitalized for an entire month. She had no idea she was HIV positive until months later – and she didn’t realize the weight HIV carried until she returned to primary school.
“My teachers would always say you can’t do this, you can’t do that,” Nadia said. “They acted like I was so fragile. Like I could faint at any moment.”
For months, Nadia felt isolated. The kids at school didn’t understand why the teachers treated her the way that they did, and Nadia couldn’t understand it either. When she took her medication, she felt fine – but for some reason, her teachers thought she was anything but.
Tired of all the special treatment, Nadia stopped taking her medication, hoping that everyone would treat her like a normal person again.
Once Nadia’s mother realized what her daughter was doing, she brought Nadia to Alive Medical Services (AMS) for counselling. Day after day, Nadia sat with the counsellors, and they spoke to her about good adherence and living positively. Soon after, Nadia began engaging with the Victor’s Club, AMS’ youth program for adolescents living with HIV.
“When I got to secondary level, I started to let it go,” Nadia said. “I thought to myself: I have HIV. That can’t be changed. And I can live with that.”
In time, Nadia began singing, dancing, and making friends at Victor’s Club. This past summer, AMS staff trained Nadia to become a youth peer educator, giving her the skills to counsel other youth living with HIV, and refer them to the clinic for treatment.
Now 18, Nadia hopes to attend university next year. Eventually, she hopes to become a counsellor for HIV-positive children herself.
“I want HIV-positive children to know that living a positive life is not that hard,” Nadia said. “You can live beyond other people’s expectations. You can achieve what others can achieve, and more. It’s important not to be afraid.”
Ever since school let out, Nadia has spent her days volunteering at AMS. She helps measure the weight, height, and health status of children at triage, working alongside the nurses and helping whenever she can.
“I want to work with children because they are the future of tomorrow,” Nadia said. “They should know that HIV can’t stop them.”
On Saturday, December 16, over 160 adolescents gathered at Alive Medical Services for the last Youth Day of 2017. Led almost entirely by AMS’ youth peer educators, Youth Day consisted of games, performances, singing, and dancing.
AMS staff also led educational sessions on the new differentiated service delivery model being rolled out at the clinic, which is working to decrease wait time for clients and increase efficiency for doctors.
The MCs of the event – three young people AMS trained as peer educators this past quarter – encouraged youth of all ages to show off what they do best. Performances included singing, dancing, miming, and even eating, the latter of which was showcased through an eating competition among six youth.
Later into the day, everyone participated in an activity led by AMS’ two music therapists. The music therapists introduced the group to samba, a Brazilian genre of music that relies on syncopated rhythms and heavy percussion.
Over 100 people beat drums, shook maracas, and played other musical instruments, coming together to create music from the other side of the Atlantic.
Youth were also given a chance to sign up for two new initiatives that will be launched at AMS next year: Positive. Powerful. Alive., a participatory storytelling project aimed to decrease stigma and open up conversation around HIV; and Peer Network Group, a platform for HIV positive clients to engage and interact with one another through synchronized appointments and activities.
“It was a day of reuniting, rejuvenation, and entertainment,” one youth said. “And of course, for making friends.”