According to Peace Corps, HIV/AIDS work has been falling off in East Africa. No one’s quite sure why, but we think it has something to do with the idea that it’s an “overdone” topic. However, the fact remains that though people may be getting talked at about HIV, whether in schools or health centers or elsewhere, some pretty preposterous and dangerous myths still exist. Like, for example, that if you wash immediately after sex you can’t contract the virus. Or that positive people can be cured by sleeping with a virgin. Additionally, stigma associated with HIV continues to be a huge problem, discouraging people from getting tested and disclosing their status.
Recent years have actually seen a rise in infection rates in Uganda, a disheartening trend in a country thought to be the continent’s leading force in fighting this epidemic, and in a day where starting ARV therapy early (at CD4 count <250) reduces transmission rates by up to 96%. The American government’s response to this enigma was to push a whole lot of PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) funding at us.
I was appointed to the National HIV Strategic Planning Team, and our first task was to use a chunk of the money to train every PC Volunteer and a Ugandan from their community through a series of four regional workshops. Our first one was this past week.
The goal of the trainings is to give participants the most up to date information on HIV, as well as innovative ways of applying this information in their villages, even if they’re not health volunteers. The virus is incredibly complex and there’s always something new to learn: this was my first time hearing about ‘super infection,’ the introduction of a second strain of the virus when 2 positive partners have unprotected sex, which greatly complicates that patient’s case and may make ARVs ineffective.
At the workshop we also had the opportunity to roll out a new HIV toolkit that we’ve been compiling for months. Every volunteer received a year-long HIV/AIDS curriculum, supplemented by locally produced materials to make each lesson as interactive and exciting as possible. My favorite is Game for the World, an HIV-in-Uganda-specific critical thinking board game for youth. (The Game deserves its own post. Once I have the chance to play with some students next year, you’ll hear much more about it!)
So, workshop 1 was a success. Now we have 3 more to go between January and March. On top of planning these events, our Team are the HIV point people for PC Uganda – we provide support for all relevant projects, put together grants, mobilize volunteers, etc. We’re currently in the midst of writing a charter, and once that’s approved we’ll be recognized as an official programming body by Headquarters.
This project is going to take up a bunch of my second year, and I couldn’t be happier. I’m even replacing my time teaching science at the school with a Health & Life Skills class, and I’m hoping this brings a bit more sustainability and creativity to my work here. Excited for the change of pace!
Thanks for reading!
There is no beauty
but the beauty of action.
[African Proverb – Morocco]