Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Witness to PEPFAR

A young Guyanese patient navigates life's challenges with humor.

A Guayanese pediatrician who passionately guards her patients' health.
            As a phototographer, I am witness, on the outside looking in. I can only judge by what I see. 

            To me it seemed like things were going well, programs made a difference in the lives of people. 

In Rwanda, a young patient becomes the first to
use a new testing card for those too small for
the standard syringe-based blood draw.

            Yesterday, I noticed an item in the Washington Post that talked about a recent glowing report issued by the Institute of Medicine and Academy of Sciences on the 10th anniversary of the inception of President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, known commonly as PEPFAR.
Testing for HIV in a small hostpital
lab in Gonaives, Haiti.


            It's great news to confirm what I thought I was seeing on the ground as I photographed assignments for Catholic Relief Services' AIDSRelief programs, funded by PEPFAR in Uganda, Rwanda, Haiti, Guyana and Brazil. 

            According to the Post, the report says "PEPFAR has been “globally transformative,” a “lifeline” and credited around the world for “restoring hope” in the long, difficult struggle against HIV/AIDS. (PEPFAR) has saved and improved the lives of millions.' It set big goals 'and has met or surpassed many of them.'"

A Homecare nurse examines her ill patient
in a Kampala, Uganda neighborhood
A Rwandan lab tech prepares to test
for HIV in the Bungwe clinic.

             Truly awesome.  

            The projects have been working. 

            As I worked in rural places, meeting people who had once been on death's door, now the picture of health, I could see at least a microcosm of the programs' successes.

With half the family testing positive with HIV,
Rwanda program has kept a little boy's family healthy
            As I photographed, I learned that in addition to providing medication, HIV programs necessarily include counseling patients who live in mud homes without power or running water, on how to get into the habit of taking their medication daily at the same time and continuously and correctly. 

A counselor checks in with a patient ensuring she is taking
her medication correctly. When the counselor first met her,
she was on death's door. 
           Taking their medication correctly means everything. It means staying healthy to provide for their families, it means making the disease a condition rather than a death sentence and it means their children getting an education rather than skipping school to care for their sick parent. 

            I learned that this counseling not only helps people learn to live with their condition, but also helps to roll back at least some of the attitude of ostracism that is prevalent in some societies. 
A Rwandan doctor confers with his patient
and nurse in a rural health center

           I photographed healthcare professionals of local descent, trained to draw blood and run tests in local labs. The labs were constructed to bring testing closer to the population, making it easier to get as many people tested and treated as possible.

           Healthcare, healthcare training,  AND job creation. 

           In front of my lens this all has meant documenting the faces of the adults and children who are healthier as a result of this massive program. It is the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, counselors, and lab techs who serve those who have HIV/AIDS. Fewer children are orphaned, fewer people are contracting the disease.

A Rwandan doctor checks on his patients
in rural Bungwe, Rwanda.
          I felt honored to be, in some small way,  a part of something pretty important, by bringing the images home of how PEPFAR and the partner organizations are really and truly making a difference for so many people, and by extension making a difference for all of us. 

A young Rwandan couple learns their tests are clear of HIV.

In Brazil the government provides testing and medication, while NGOs provide wellness, counseling and job training programs. One family has navigated struggles to find a healthy life which includes a mom whose job is to share her personal experiences and encourage other HIV-positive people to return to the government hospitals to begin their treatment programs. 
A Haitian woman maintains her health through monthly visits to the doctor at Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Haiti.

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