A One-Of-A-Kind Home in Guyana
February 20, 2008, Georgetown, Guyana —By Kai Hill and Lloyda Nicholas
The three-story building nestled within Guyana's southern Georgetown district is unassuming in presence. It looks just like another home in the neighborhood, until someone infected with HIV arrives at its door.
Since opening in March 2007, the St. Vincent de Paul Care Centre, an 18-bed, temporary live-in facility, has provided counseling and overall rehabilitative care to people living with HIV. Referred from four local hospitals, patients from all walks of life usually come to the center wilted physically and mentally. Yet, adherence to medication is oftentimes their greatest hurdle.
Once at the center, patients receive drug treatment, extensive adherence counseling, and the overall care and support needed to regain their strength and live healthy lives.
"I am happy for the opportunity to make something of my life," says Sceon, a former patient who volunteered at the center out of gratitude for his care. He was later hired as a part-time handyman.
The 26-year-old, who is both hearing-impaired and HIV-positive, became severely ill with tuberculosis last year but failed to take his medication. He was admitted to Georgetown Public Hospital, where his condition stabilized. Yet he was still too weak to go home. In May 2007, he was admitted to St. Vincent, where the center's staff placed him on a strict medication schedule.
Sceon is polite and hardworking. Since he reads lips very well, it is easy to carry on a normal conversation with him.
His stay at the center helped him to regain his strength. "They [the staff] were very loving and I always got my medication and meals on time," says Sceon, who treats the center's staff like his own family.
A Lifelong Commitment
The care center has had a regular flow of clients since its opening. Many of the patients suffer from the effects of not taking their medications for HIV or HIV-related illnesses.
"Most people in Guyana, when given a 7- to 10-day course of antibiotics, will not complete the treatment fully," says AIDSRelief Technical Advisor Dr. Pamela Marks. "Antiretrovirals are medications that must be taken at a fixed time daily. It is lifelong therapy… . Specific reasons for poor adherence stem from pill burden (too many pills), feeling or looking too healthy, and having not disclosed [HIV status] to friends or family."
Adherence at the center is ensured by strict administering of medication. This is coupled with adherence counseling by the center's in-house social worker. Patients also receive strict clinical monitoring by the center's physician and feedback so patients can see the progress they are making.
Furthermore, each patient discharged from the center is paired with a home-based care worker who continues to monitor the patient's adherence and psychosocial needs. Support groups have also been established at the center as well as another local organization that provides care for people living with HIV.
Funding to open the center was provided by AIDSRelief, a Catholic Relief Services-led consortium of organizations aimed at stemming the spread of HIV and providing comprehensive treatment to people living with HIV. CRS also provides the St. Vincent de Paul Care Centre with additional technical assistance and training.
The center is the first of its kind in Guyana. Prior to the center's opening, CRS took several steps to minimize community stigma. This involved surveying surrounding residents, and launching a community-awareness campaign in nearby churches, schools and health centers.
"To date we have had no negative reaction to the center's presence," says Care Centre Manager Emily Cumberbatch, noting how hospitable the community has been to patients.
"Clients and staff from the center utilize the services of a neighboring taxi service for transportation. Clients are allowed to use community services such as Internet cafés without any difficulty."
Kai T. Hill is an associate web producer for CRS. She works in the Baltimore headquarters. Lloyda Nicholas is a program assistant with CRS Guyana.