Tuesday, July 26, 2011

You Can Make a Difference: Day 2

By Elisa Morgan

I got tested for HIV-AIDS today.

I've always been pretty sure that I don't have AIDS. I mean, I've been married to the same man for thirty-two

Elisa in Kenya

years. I'm healthy. I don't give blood because I'm "weight-challenged." But honestly...I've never been tested. How do you know for sure if you've never been tested?

So I got tested today. I certainly didn't intend to get tested for HIV when I awoke this morning in a hotel in Nairobi at o'dark thirty.

This gang of ONEMoms is heroic. (Join us! http://www.one.org/us/actnow/moms) After flying some thirty-plus hours and sleeping for five, we boarded a plan for Kisumu, landed and drove an hour or so while being briefed by Dr. Kayla Laserson, Director of the CDC (Center for Disease Control) in Kisumu, Kenya. We arrived in a village and divided up in teams to follow CDC workers to walk into homes to provide home testing. We were to do the listening as the workers tested and counseled families. Our family included Godfrey, Lucy (first wife), Sylvia (second wife) and their combined children, six in all. Godfrey, Lucy and Sylvia had recently been tested positive. The purpose of our visit was to retest and to encourage them to take advantage of free treatment provided through PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief). We were to learn that this is tricky stuff since while the treatment is free, the positive person has to travel a good distance to receive it. That's expensive.

Yeah...I know two wives. It's easy to lose ourselves in that cultural reality and not even take sight of the six children...the lives... the pictures of Jesus on the wall of their mud shack. This is a way of life. Not familiar to me for sure, but one God somehow knows.

How should I respond? What words can I find?

I turn to the facts: I'm in Kisumu...the most concentrated area for AIDS in Africa. There are 6.6 million people globally receiving lifesaving antiretroviral treatment (ARVs). Guess what: 24% of those diagnosed are in Sub-Saharan Africa. Five per cent of these individuals are in tiny Kenya. And of those...one quarter don't know they are positive. Because they don't get tested. Home testing is a sensible, workable, liveable way to go. To save the lives of moms and dads and babies.

We sit across a table covered with a carefully crocheted cloth and Godfrey and Lucy and Sylvia and I try to absorb their future when all of the sudden our ONE.org guide on the visit, Nealon, suggests we get tested too. We: him, me and another mom, Rachel. The smiles break out on their faces. Relief spreads through the room. We talk about the confusion everywhere, even in the US, about the misperceptions of HIV, and the stigma even here of admitting that someone has been diagnosed positive...and stunningly, about the solutions...how we can treat HIV-AIDS Godfrey lifts his head. Our eyes shift to the frames of Jesus on their walls. Godfrey and Lucy and Sylvia decide to take the step to engage in the free treatment positive. We all smile.

I lower my eyes and read my test: negative. Another day. Another season. I smile too, enriched by this day in Kenya and all it had to show me.


Day 2 Daily Action: Today the bloggers will be meeting with couples and mothers living with HIV, Tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases. Using the hashtag #ONEMoms, tweet a message (or messages) you'd like us to deliver to mothers in Kenya.

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