Students line up to have their finger pricked, their blood drawn, and their HIV test taken to a clinic. Nurse Jeanine is matter of fact as she has the high school students role-play the situations that might lead to contracting HIV/AIDS, how to prevent its spread, and what it means to live with the disease. Her notebook and pamphlets use illustrations to reach those who cannot read or write.
Jeanine has seen a lot of changes in the two years of Action Kivu’s All Together Against HIV/AIDS education and testing campaign. “At the beginning, people were afraid to be tested. Now, with education, people show up and ask to be tested,” she says. The campaign is in its second year, and even churches announce meetings for testing and education. But religion still proves a problem, as the church in Congo does not condone the use of condoms, and yet will excommunicate a pregnant woman who has no husband. Amani, Action Kivu’s founding director, speaks up: The answer is to raise awareness, to educate the church leaders as well.
All Together Against HIV/AIDS educates the youth in this corner of eastern Congo, who then take their knowledge back to their schools, their families, their churches, to be the educators. “The work makes me happy!” Nurse Jeanine says as she pricks the finger of another student. “To protect one person protects many people.”
In just two years, we’ve tested over 1000 students and community members. One box of 100 test determiners costs $40, one box of lancets costs $40. The challenge is safe transportation to rural areas (Action Kivu does not have a 4×4) and the need is great. To invest in this life-saving work, donate today!
Scroll down through the photos to see the winces, grimaces, and grins of a day of testing and education.
To shake off the stigma that surrounds AIDS and HIV testing, our partner Amani volunteered to be publicly tested at the opening of World Soccer Day this September 25th. Funded by the Dillon Henry Foundation, the tournament brought together 8 teams of footballers to play it out on the pitch, 4 of which were girls’ teams, a first in Mumosho, which explained the crowd of 4000 spectators.
In front of the crowd gathered at the Mumosho Women’s Center, Amani stepped forward to have his blood taken by Nurse Jeanine for an HIV test, and was quickly followed by one of the star players from the community, a young man geared up for the game. Shortly after him, a line formed to be tested, as kids and community members signed on to learn more about the disease, and how to stop it from spreading.
One week earlier, on a hot September Sunday afternoon in Mumosho, Congo, a slight breeze stirred the air in the sparse room of the church where Nurse Jeanine sat in front of 45 students and community members. Though they had just started the school year, these students were spending their Sunday in a different kind of class, learning the facts about HIV/AIDS, so that they could share their education with their peers and family members. Sub Saharan Africa represents almost 70% of the total new HIV infections in the world, according to UN AIDS. Nurse Jeanine, Amani, and the kids and community leaders of eastern Congo learning about the disease intend to change that.
“HIV / AIDS is considered taboo in Congolese society, thus the high risk of going untested and spreading HIV. The message of education about HIV/AIDS can deeply penetrate the fabric of society, and literally save lives,” says our partner and community leader, Amani Matabaro.
Working in tandem with Amani’s community building programs and vocational / educational training workshops, Nurse Jeanine is committed to changing how the new generation of Congolese thinks about HIV/AIDS, spending much of her time in the villages of Mumosho, proctoring tests and raising awareness to the facts about living with the disease, while not passing it on.
The determiner kits that Jeanine uses to test on site for HIV offer an immediate reading of whether the person shows the signs of HIV/AIDS, at which point she contacts them confidentially, and schedules a full blood test at a nearby hospital for the conclusive results. With those results, the person is then referred to Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, or the local clinic in Nyantende for treatment with antiretroviral (ARV) drugs.
Even then, knowing they are HIV positive, many people in eastern Congo ask to be sent to a clinic in neighboring Rwanda, terrified that their family, friends, and neighbors might find out they contracted the disease. Thus, the critical, life-saving aspect of Amani and Nurse Jeanine’s program ALL TOGETHER AGAINST HIV/AIDS consists of diversified activities centered in the community, with a focus on settings with large populations such as schools, churches, and community-based organizations in eastern DRC. Thanks to the generosity of Robin Wright and Karen Fowler’s company Pour Les Femmes, Action Kivu currently pays Nurse Jeanine a monthly stipend that helps with her tireless work, but the HIV field test-kits are paid for out of Amani’s pocket at $25 per kit, and each tests 80 individuals. If you would like to give toward covering that cost as well as for Nurse Jeanine’s assistant, please donate today, and in your PayPal “note to seller” mark HIV. We are grateful for your investment in this life-changing work!