When I tell people here in the US that I work with the AIDS crisis in Africa, they often respond with a question about PEPFAR, USAID, the Global Fund, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, or one of the other highly-publicized agencies and foundations acting in the HIV/AIDS sphere. It’s a great question – we all hear about the billions of dollars that President Bush or global celebrities have pledged to fight HIV/AIDS, but sometimes it’s hard to tell where that actually goes.
It’s difficult to trace where that money ends up, between all of the governments, consultants, agencies, partnerships, and implementing partners that are involved. In Kenya, though, I saw the results of this funding focused overwhelmingly in two areas – large-scale prevention campaigns and medication. PEPFAR and others have had a tremendous impact in increasing the availability of life-saving medication for people with HIV. In Kenya, if someone gets tested for HIV in a hospital, they can almost always receive medication for free because of international support. This is vital, because properly taking ARV medication can extend a person’s life expectancy from months to 20+ years, lowering their viral load and allowing them to live like anyone else.
Problems arise, though, when people fall through the cracks. Many people are too sick, too poor, or too ignorant to properly access and take the medication that is waiting for them in hospitals. Others don’t have the nutrition to prevent side effects, so they end up throwing away the medication or defaulting on their prescription. Once someone has stopped taking ARV’s, the same drug won’t work again, and hospitals will often deny treatment to these defaulters. There are also people who get the medicine, but never move past the social stigma and misinformation that is rampant – many simply give up on life and wait to die.
This is where CARE for AIDS comes in. We serve those people who fall through the cracks. Our counselors are able to reach out and work intimately with individuals – learning their stories and helping them in unique ways – in a way that governments or overworked hospitals simply can’t. We can give nutrition where it is missing, and we can provide knowledge for those that are confused. We can help with extra medicine for malaria or TB, and we can teach the skills that a father needs to make money when no one will hire him. Finally, we can show each person that they are loved, by us and by God, and that they have a life worth living!
PEPFAR or USAID exist in a different realm than CFA. From my time in Kenya, and back here in America, I’ve decided that neither is right or wrong – both are completely necessary. The medication that our tax dollars provide has saved countless lives on a large scale, but we will never beat the AIDS crisis without the kind of focused, intimate care that CFA can offer. It’s tempting to think that if we, as a country or government, can throw enough money across the ocean, any problem can be solved, but the truth is that people will always fall through the cracks. I’m proud to be helping “the least of these,” the ones that fall through the cracks, and I’m thankful for all of your help in making it work.