America’s Helping Hand in the Health System: The Hope it Ignites

Atsede Deghu, 39, an HIV+ mother living in Debre Zeyit , Ethiopia smiles down at her son, Yishak Mohammed born HIV free thanks to PMTCT (Prevention of Mother-to-Child-Transmission) care.  Photographer Michael Tewelde/Save the Children Picture Taken in 2012. Atsede Deghu, 39, an HIV+ mother living in Debre Zeyit , Ethiopia smiles down at her son, Yishak Mohammed born HIV free thanks to PMTCT (Prevention of Mother-to-Child-Transmission) care. Photographer Michael Tewelde/Save the Children Picture Taken in 2012.

Fifteen years ago, when her husband died after suffering for a long time, what distressed Nardos Debebe was how to raise her two children without a father. But, soon, the rumour of her husband’s death from AIDS-related complications erupted. This was followed by stigma and discrimination, adding to the pain and agony she had already been enduring. She then hid away from families and friends into a monastery around the Entoto Hills north of Addis Ababa. She stayed there for years, leaving her children with family members, and choosing to live in solitude.

A friend of Nardos then made a surprise visit at the monastery and found her weak and fragile. She brought her back to Addis Ababa, where she got tested for HIV/AIDS. She tested positive for HIV; apparently the rumours about her husband were true. At the time, the price of the antiretroviral treatment (ART) was expensive; people like Nardos couldn’t afford the treatment. Instead, she began taking other medicines that were cheaper. These helped with certain symptoms related to the virus, but were not the ART medicines most doctors recommend. In 2005, the Ethiopian government, with the support of partners and donors, started to provide free ART medicines for patients, along with other services.

After spending years dealing with hopelessness and pain, Nardos was one of those who was able to obtain the treatments when the government started providing them free-of-charge. 

“Consequently, my health recovered to [a] good condition and my [desire] to live blossomed again,” she told EBR. “Besides that, I was lucky that my children [both tested negative for HIV].”  Nardos then revealed herself to the community around her and started campaigning to create awareness. “It is not only my [desire] to live that flourishes but I [have] become the torch for the hopes of others,” she concludes. She is now working as a witness/counsellor at Gandhi Hospital, where inclusive HIV/AIDS protection and treatments are provided.

The government of Ethiopia, with enormous support from the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Global Fund and other partners, have been fighting HIV/AIDS in a coordinated manner prioritising protecting and providing support for those already infected with the virus. 

These interventions focus on the expansion of health facilities; supporting professionals in these institutions; and providing logistics, medicine, and equipment, says Abduljelil Reshad, Resource Mobilization Director at the Ministry of Health. The support of the American government is substantial and it is growing, he says. Last year, for example, the direct support for the programme leaped to USD50 million from the previous year’s figure of USD21 million. But the American support of Ethiopian health programs overall has reached around USD300 million annually.

With this assistance, the government has been able to establish more than 3,000 HIV/AIDS counselling and testing (CT) centres, 2,150 centres focused on prevention from mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) and 880 ART service -- providing facilities all over the country by 2012/13. In the same year, CT services have been provided for close to 12 million people and those receiving ART services has reached more than 300,000.

PMTCT services have become popular, increasing dramatically during the past few years. Many people who are infected with HIV are now able to have children free from the virus. 

Senait Woldemariam, name changed, 34, is a mother of two and benefitted greatly from PMTCT services. When she left her hometown of Mojo to come to Addis Ababa after divorcing her abusive husband a decade ago, she thought her life would change for the better. She started working as a house maid in an older man’s house. “He was a very kind person and soon we were engaged in relationships and [eventually got] married,” she told EBR. 

When her new husband started to become ill frequently, they decided to get tested for HIV and found out they were both positive. “I wasn’t worried about the illness, to be honest. What worries [me a lot] is not being able to have a child,” she said I was my mother’s only child and she passed away when I was a little girl.” 

But after getting the counselling and starting the ART, she discovered that it is possible to have a healthy child with proper care and treatment. “Now I have two children, both girls, and I gave the name of my mother [to] one of them,” she told EBR, with tears flowing down her face. “Both the counselling and treatments are saving lives and [giving] hope [to those of us with HIV] of surviving [to see] your offspring to the next generation” Senait concludes.

When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited  the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial hospital in Addis Ababa which provides services to protect and treat HIV/AIDS, Minister of Health Keseteberhan Admasu (MD) said “Ethiopia has made a significant stride in improving the health of its citizens; it achieved the MDG target three years ahead of schedule.” According to the minister, HIV incidents have been decreased by more than 90Pct. Mortality and morbidity from TB and Malaria has also decreased by more than 60pct and the Ministry was able to reduce the number of children under five dying from preventable causes by more than 60Pct.  “This puts us [at] the [tipping] point where we can realistically talk about getting [a rate of] zero infections and eliminating HIV,” the Minster said.  Secretary of State Kerry boasted about the performance of the health sector and said that “what you are achieving here in Ethiopia is an example we can take all over the world. I hope you feel very proud of it.”

2nd Year . June 2014 . No.15


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