World AIDS Day: Meeting Needs in Rural Asumbi, Kenya

Elizabeth Jere is CRS Kenya’s coordinator of AIDSRelief, a CRS-led consortium that is providing lifesaving antiretroviral treatment and other care to people with HIV. She oversees AIDSRelief activities at the 20 partner sites in Kenya. She sends this World AIDS Day reflection from Nairobi:

Elizabeth Jere discusses HIV service delivery with a pharmacist at St. Joseph Mission Hospital-Migori, an AIDSRelief partner facility in western Kenya that receives support from the U.S. government’s PEPFAR program. Photo by Dickson Atonga/St Joseph Mission Hospital-Migori

Elizabeth Jere discusses HIV service delivery with a pharmacist at St. Joseph Mission Hospital-Migori, an AIDSRelief partner facility in western Kenya that receives support from the U.S. government’s PEPFAR program. Photo by Dickson Atonga/St Joseph Mission Hospital-Migori

Sister Angela was back at square one. Actually, as she put it, she was back at “square zero,” trying to run a rural mission hospital with no qualified staff and almost none of the drugs needed to treat the 200 HIV patients pouring in the door.

Asumbi Mission Hospital sits in the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic in Kenya. More than 40 percent of the people who come to Asumbi for free HIV testing end up testing positive — the result of considerable poverty and traditional practices that spread infection.

When Sister Angela called me, she was desperate. The nearest district hospital, nearly 35 miles away, was full to capacity and so had referred 80 patients taking antiretroviral medications back to Asumbi. The government sent free antiretroviral drugs to Asumbi to support these patients, and the district hospital agreed to send over a clinic officer on Saturdays to prescribe the drugs as needed. This was great, but word had spread quickly that antiretroviral treatment was now available at Asumbi, and the flood of patients began to rise.

Unfortunately, Asumbi hospital didn’t have the staff needed to provide adequate counseling to patients, the necessary lab equipment to diagnose AIDS-related complications, or a pharmacy stocked with the essential drugs required to treat opportunistic infections. Asumbi needed urgent help.

Catholic Relief Services was able to provide such critical assistance as the lead agency of the AIDSRelief consortium, a group of five partners funded by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). We put Sister Angela in touch with staff at the St. Joseph Mission Hospital-Migori — a hospital that has received AIDSRelief training and financial support since 2004 — and developed a plan for St. Joseph’s to provide weekly support. With financial assistance from AIDSRelief, St. Joseph staff will now visit Asumbi Mission Hospital one day a week to deliver extra clinical, counseling, pharmaceutical, laboratory and management assistance. AIDSRelief will also help cover the cost of equipment Asumbi now needs to provide quality patient care to patients on antiretrovirals, starting with basic scales and stethoscopes.

Based on current testing and infection rates, Asumbi is projected to have over 500 patients in HIV care by March 2008 — and it’s just one of the hundreds of health care facilities in Kenya trying to keep up with demand. Through U.S. government support and PEPFAR-funded programs like AIDSRelief, aid agencies are teaming with governments to help ensure that people living with HIV are receiving the highest quality of care regardless of their economic situations.

Bottom line, you can’t stop patients from coming to Asumbi, and you can’t turn them away. On World AIDS Day, I’m celebrating our ability to meet the need one more time.

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One Response to “World AIDS Day: Meeting Needs in Rural Asumbi, Kenya”

  1. john Says:

    it is a good idea highlighting the plight of HIV patients and victims within Asumbi are, may the area mp develop an interest in creating a good infrastructure to facilitate the programs effectively with minimal hindrance

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