Caring for Families in Guyana
January 25, 2007, —
Within the confines of a small hospital room in Guyana, a nurse explains to an HIV-infected mother that hope is merely a treatment away.
The woman was diagnosed with HIV at this hospital while pregnant with her now-6-month-old son. While the infant's status is still unknown, his 2-year-old brother, John, tested positive for HIV and, since birth, was often sickly and withdrawn.
Previously, there was no access to life-prolonging antiretroviral drugs in the town of Bartica, where the family lives. The hinterland community largely serves as a transit point to the mining areas in the interior of Guyana. And HIV treatment was available only to those who could afford the tiring, costly trip to Georgetown, Guyana's capital city.
Then, in October of 2005, antiretroviral medicines came to Bartica by way of Bartica Regional Hospital, where Eugenie Payne, John's nurse, counsels and treats people and with HIV and AIDS and their families.
John started his treatment in February of 2006 and his health has made a marked improvement: he is gaining weight and is less sick and more active. Eugenie, his nurse, makes regular visits to their home to see how John and his mother are faring and to remind them of upcoming appointments.
The expansion of drug treatment to the hospital was made possible by AIDSRelief, a five-member consortium led by CRS that delivers lifesaving antiretroviral therapy to poor and underserved men, women and children in nine countries in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.
While talking to Eugenie, John's mother was encouraged to disclose her status to her partner. He and her two older children came in for testing, and all thankfully turned out negative.
Eugenie watches John's mother give John his medications to ensure that the right amounts are being administered. She also helps identify any barriers to keeping John on his drug schedule. Barriers can include missed doses, severe side effects and fear of stigma from taking medications in public.
John's infant brother is also examined regularly by Eugenie, other hospital staff and — most importantly — his family. While it is hoped that he will not be infected with HIV, at least he can be assured that the staff at Bartica Hospital are helping assure that he will have a healthy mother and older brother to grow up with.
*John is not the real name of the child in this story.