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.”
Taking care of a child – any child – is never easy. But when Irene found out her adopted daughter, Gift, was HIV-positive, she was at a loss for what to do. Gift’s diagnosis came during a difficult time, as Irene brought the baby to Alive Medical Services (AMS) when she was near death. After the doctors and nurses treated Gift, she was started on antiretroviral medication at the age of 2.
“I had never taken care of an HIV-positive person before,” Irene said. “AMS did so many tests and figured out what was happening to my child.”
After Gift’s condition stabilized, Irene continued visiting AMS to seek out advice and retrieve Gift’s medication. The counsellors helped Irene understand the importance of proper disclosure, and taught her methods of discussing HIV in ways that wouldn’t scare or stigmatize her daughter. For years, Irene and Gift took medication together, turning it into a morning routine where Irene would swallow her vitamin supplements, while Gift would take her antiretroviral treatment.
When Irene felt Gift was old enough to know the truth, Irene was honest with her. After discussing her status just the two of them, Irene took Gift to visit the AMS counsellors. Though she was only 8 years old at the time, Gift immediately started tracking her medications with a watch, taking full control over her treatment and her health.
“She really was amazing, and I’m so proud of her,” Irene said. “But she also got the right information from the right people at the right time.”
Gift is now 9 years old, and Irene reports that she feels free about her diagnosis. Her health is stable, and she has disclosed her status to the older members of her family.
“I used to think: how am I going to do this?” Irene said. “I used to be scared. But I thank God for Alive. Now I know exactly how to care for my child.”
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