January 28, 2016
Last Tuesday at our weekly CARE for AIDS staff meeting, we had the pleasure of learning more about HIV and AIDS from Evonne Woodson, who is on the forefront of HIV/AIDS vaccine research at Emory here in Atlanta. I’m embarrassed to confess that even though I talk about the effects of AIDS on our clients and their families daily, I don’t know nearly enough about how HIV and AIDS from a medical perspective. Because of her work, Evonne has an incredible grasp of the HIV/AIDS attacks and disables the body. I on the other hand, am a Public Relations major who took a grand total of one science class in college. When she passed out a packet entitled “HIV For A Non-Science Audience”, I knew I was in over my head. Listening to Evonne explain how HIV morphs over time, how there are dozens of sub-types and variations of the virus, how each sub-type is just different enough to prevent scientists from creating a cure, CD4 counts, seroconversion, clinical latency, ARV drug resistance…it was fascinating, but overwhelming. As much as I learned in our two hour meeting, it’s clear I’m in no danger of becoming an expert on the subject.
Hearing the complexities of HIV/AIDS reminded me that dealing with the actual disease is just one of the many challenges that our clients deal with on a daily basis. They also face the challenges of social stigma, low self esteem and isolation from friends and family. They face unemployment, hungry children and feeling hopeless that their situation can improve. To be sure, AIDS is a not just a disease of the body, it affects the whole person.
This is exactly why I love how our Kenyan staff cares for clients. They recognize that complex challenges demand comprehensive solutions. There is no silver bullet when dealing with HIV/AIDS or the issues surrounding it, it just takes a lot of hard work. Our model of care depends not only on medical best practices and using resources efficiently, but also on relationships and community buy in to empower clients. Staff members spend a lot of time with each client, making sure they understand how their medicine works, praying with them, teaching them job skills. They visit client homes and get to know their children and spouses. They build a welcoming community in the church and turn clients into friends. In short, they help bring hope to our clients.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Martha Berry, the founder of my alma mater, Berry College.
“The pursuit of easy things makes us weak, the pursuit of hard things, difficult things, makes us strong”.
Finding a cure for AIDS is no easy task, neither is successfully living with it. I’m thankful for smart people like Evonne who are in labs finding a cure for this disease. I’m also thankful for our staff’s commitment to care for our client’s needs, both body and soul. Both are pursuing the hard things to make our client’s lives better, and make their neighborhoods, their country and our world a stronger, better place to live.