Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being at all ages. This is number three of seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals launched by the UN last year. Perhaps it is unsurprising that this goal strikes a chord with Viva’s vision to see children grow up ‘safe, well and fulfilling their God-given potential’.
Individual extracts from the UN’s third goal include aims to
• end preventable deaths of new-borns and children under 5 years of age.
• end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases.
• reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment.
These targets bring two specific Viva programmes to mind: one in Kampala, Uganda, spreading health messages through peer-to-peer health educators, and the other in Harare, Zimbabwe, which raises awareness of how to identify, prevent and care for those with HIV and AIDS. At the heart of both of these projects is educating local communities with basic healthcare messages.
Peer educators in Uganda
Between April and June this year, 21 peer educators reached out to over 4,300 adults and children in two slum areas of Kampala, teaching them basic maternal and child health messages. Peer educators are also encouraged to keep increasing their own knowledge through regular training sessions on issues particularly relevant to their work. Recent training topics include fibroids, epilepsy and eye infections. They are also given small grants so they can effectively share what they learn within their communities.
Annet is one mother who was recently helped. After learning that she was HIV positive, Annet’s self-esteem fell and she felt stigmatised by her neighbours. She lost all hope and thought it was the end of her life. Annet did not take any medication, making her condition worsen.
Then, one of the peer educators visited her. They counselled her and encouraged her to go to a medical centre to get ARVSs – drugs which stop the virus from replicating and that would allow her immune system to repair itself, so preventing further damage. Through following the advice of the peer educators, Annet’s life has been turned around. Slowly, her health has been improving and her self-esteem has risen. She is positive about her future and is busy selling bananas to help support her family.
Let your Light Shine, Zimbabwe
Unfortunately, stigmatisation against those with HIV or AIDS is common in both Uganda and Zimbabwe, with people often being unwilling to take medication in public or to disclose their HIV/AIDS status to others. One crucial way to change this is through education and by simply encouraging people to talk about the virus.
Viva’s Zimbabwean partner network VNZ is doing just this in Harare through its Let your Light Shine project which equips people to understand the effects of HIV/AIDS on children and teaches communities how best to respond. So far over 500 families have been reached through this initiative.
VNZ trains care workers to support children and families affected by the virus. To make the project self-sustaining, care workers are asked to teach what they have learnt to people in their communities and to put what they have learnt in to practice. They do this by training more caregivers, seeking out children who are infected or affected by the disease and teaching children life skills. They also advocate for more extreme measures to be taken by the government on behalf of children.
Care workers also go door-to-door to offer appointments to teach families basic information on preventing the spread of the disease and how to reduce the risk of being infected.
John is one child who goes to a Learning Support Centre run by VNZ and who has been helped through Let your Light Shine. He and his mother both have HIV but kept it a secret out of fear of being stigmatised. However, one of John’s teachers noticed that something wasn’t quite right and visited him at home. Reluctantly John’s mother revealed that they were HIV positive.
The teacher passed on information about how to stay healthy and encouraged her to see the importance of sharing about their health with others, particularly with John’s school. This meant that his eating habits could be monitored and his teachers could make sure he took his medication. John and his mother began to feel able to share their HIV status with close friends and their church.
Soon after, their church leader took part in Let Your Light Shine. And John’s mother became the first in a group of 15 to be formally trained to share information with others about caring for those with HIV and AIDS. John is healthy, has re-joined formal education and wants to be a doctor, to ensure others in his community access the best healthcare possible.
It was not long ago that ending the epidemic of AIDS seemed impossible. Yet over the last 15 years there have been significant developments towards stopping the AIDS epidemic. According to the UN AIDS ‘Gap Report’, ‘between 2001 and 2013 there was a 38 per cent reduction in new HIV infections and between 2005 and 2013 there was a 35 per cent decline in AIDS related deaths’. Education, breakthroughs in science, advocacy for affordable medicines, such as ARVs, and better access to them have all been significant factors contributing towards this.
Yet there is still a long way to go. Although most countries are making progress towards this target, in other areas, particularly in the Middle East and Northern Africa, progress is either slow or going backwards. There are also still specific groups of people who are disproportionately affected by the virus – according to the same report, in sub-Saharan Africa (which includes both Uganda and Zimbabwe), women make up 57 per cent of adults living with HIV and they are infected with it five to seven years earlier than men.
Despite these setbacks, the progress made already, together with the united response ensured through the involvement of the UN, means that there is real hope that this Sustainable Development Goal can be achieved.
Viva’s localised response, within Uganda and Zimbabwe, is a small but vital part in the worldwide response to AIDS. It is making a difference to so many lives – like those of John and Annet.
You can find all the articles from our blog series by following this link.