World AIDS Day: PEPFAR and Community Health Program important for HIV positive Haitians in the face of cholera
By Jennifer Browning
Holding her doll tightly to her chest, a bright-eyed smiling 8-year-old Eve* greeted the Project Medishare team providing a home visit. With the cholera epidemic looming over Haiti, Project Medishare’s community health agents have increased the number of home visits normally conducted. These frequent home visits are so important to children like Eve.
Project Medishare community health nurse and Coordinator for the PEPFAR program, Rosemerline Pierre-Louis remembers when she first met Eve. Back then Eve was a completely different child.
Four years ago, Eve’s mother died from AIDS, leaving the little girl and her three sisters in the care of Eve’s aunt. Last year, Eve began losing weight, and a respiratory infection caused her to become severely ill. Rosemerline visited Eve often, but was worried. Eve was thin, lethargic and depressed. During one visit Rosemerline brought her a doll to cheer her up. It is the same doll Eve clutches onto today.
“I wasn’t sure she was going to make it,” Rosemerline said. “But I visited her as often as I could. One day, I took a doll and hid it behind my back. I tried to get her to smile, but it wasn’t until she saw the doll that I saw her smile for the first time.”
Thanks to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) grant, Project Medishare was able to see that Eve received care at the hospital in Thomonde where she was eventually diagnosed and treated for HIV. Through the PEPFAR program Project Medishare is able to provide her not only with healthcare and life-saving medicine, but the program also pays for her tuition so that she can continue to go to school.
Despite her HIV status, Eve looks like any other 8-year-old who attends school in Casse. She loves to play with her friends and she often draws pictures for the Project Medishare staff who visit her.
“I love everything about school,” she said. “I love to read, sing and draw!”
Eve also has an idea about what she wants to be when she grows up.
“I want to be a doctor when I grow up, because I like the doctors….. they make people feel better,” Eve said. “They and Miss Rosemerline made me feel better at the hospital and they come see me often.”
As one of five organizations in the Cross Haiti Alliance, Project Medishare received a three-year PEPFAR NPI grant in December 2008. Project Medishare’s PEPFAR program, which officially began activities in July 2009, has been focusing activities in the very remote community of Casse/Lahoye located in the commune of Thomonde. Over a three-year period the grant focuses on providing support and care to orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) and their families, as well as HIV prevention and education to youth in the community.
Today, on World AIDS Day, we are thankful that children like Eve did not get lost among a sea of victims who have succumbed to the disease. While the PEPFAR program provides hope for children like Eve, community health agents still worry that with Eve’s weakened immune system, she is even more vulnerable than most in this cholera epidemic ravaging Haiti. Upon each home visit, health agents impress upon Eve and her family the importance of washing their hands, drinking only water treated with water purification tablets, and only eating peeled and cooked fruits and vegetables. Rosemerline however stresses to the family. Eve has to have clean water as cholera would quickly kill her.
In the face of the cholera epidemic, Project Medishare’s PEPFAR and community health programs in rural Haiti are more important than ever.
If you would like to help Project Medishare with our battle against cholera, please click here to make an online donation in support of our Community Health Program based in Haiti’s Central Plateau.
*Names have been changed to protect the individual in this story.
* Laurene Leger contributed to this story.