HIV Medicines Offer Chance to Support Others
November 16, 2007, MWANZA, Tanzania —By David Snyder
MWANZA, Tanzania — Despite warning signs for years, Dotto Motomoto didn't really understand how sick he was until 2005 — nearly eight years after he first showed signs of HIV infection. Time after time, he was admitted for a month or more to the local Sumve Hospital near Mwanza, Tanzania. As his immune system failed, Motomoto's body started to lose the battle.
"In 2005, I had several episodes of fever and vomiting," Dotto explains. "From 2005 to 2006, it was a period of fluctuation for me between sickness and health. In 2006, I was admitted, and I agreed to be tested."
The results were not surprising, Dotto adds. Testing positive for the HIV virus, he immediately began looking for anything that might prolong his life. He didn't have to wait long.
A New Lease on Life
With a CD4 count of just 68 — a measure of the body's immune system that typically reads 1,000 or more in a healthy person — Dotto qualified right away for inclusion in the hospital's antiretroviral program, supported by Catholic Relief Services through the AIDSRelief consortium. A group of five nongovernmental organizations led by CRS and funded through the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, AIDSRelief is providing lifesaving HIV services, including free antiretroviral therapy, in nine countries in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. In Tanzania, AIDSRelief is aiming to provide more than 30,125 people with the powerful antiretroviral drugs by February 2009 through partnerships with 65 local treatment facilities, including Sumve Hospital.
The effect of the drugs has been profound, says Dr. Abdullah Bihoga, one of two doctors on staff at the 265-bed hospital.
"The big impact that I have seen is that this program has made so many people come for treatment," Dr. Bihoga observes. "It has given people hope that these drugs are good."
Inspired to Help Others
Upon learning that he was positive, what Dotto Motomoto needed most was hope. Like many in Tanzania, where stigma and misunderstanding still surround HIV, Dotto at first believed other causes were responsible for his worsening health.
"I was using local herbs for a month, but I really believed I was bewitched," Dotto shares. "But when I came to the hospital and started using [antiretroviral medications], all of the symptoms went away."
To ensure adherence to treatment, hospital staff conducts a series of three trainings before each patient begins the drug regimen. Antiretroviral medications must be taken daily for the rest of the patient's life — with no exceptions — to prevent drug resistance. Patients are taught first in general terms about HIV and its causes and effects. They then learn how to take the medications correctly and consistently each day. Hospital staff also instructs new patients on eating a sufficient, balanced diet for the antiretroviral drugs to work optimally.
Now regaining his health, Dotto is reaching out to help others along with his wife, Theresa, who is also living with HIV and receiving antiretroviral support through the hospital's AIDSRelief program. Together, they are turning their HIV-positive status into a teaching tool by volunteering to counsel new patients who have recently tested positive for the virus, encouraging them through weekly sessions in a room at the Sumve Hospital. His reasons for doing this, Dotto says, are simple.
"The thing is to help others using the drugs — to live positive," Dotto explains. "[I want] to give them hope, to do fine as I have."
David Snyder is a photojournalist who has traveled to more than 30 countries with CRS. Most recently, David visited country programs in southern and eastern Africa, including Tanzania.