Turning Despair into Hope (and Not Just on World AIDS Day)

“Don’t write about this subject only on World AIDS Day,” said a colleague. She had just returned from the International AIDS Conference and was eager to share what she’d learned.

She makes a good point. People living with HIV do so every day, not just on December 1st.

This World AIDS Day, we celebrate the health workers who support people living with HIV every single day of the year. With every sunrise and sunset, people with HIV need support and care to live positively. 

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Thierry Luzayano knows this well. He’s the head nurse at the HIV and AIDS support unit at Kintambo General Referral Hospital, just outside of the capital city of Kinshasa. A tall man with a direct, steady gaze, Luzayano is sympathetic to what his patients have already been through when they arrive at the hospital.

People living with HIV are often “stigmatized, abandoned, rejected,” he says. “Unfortunately, in society they’re sometimes victimized and left to die.”

Many Congolese have misconceptions about HIV and AIDS, and stigma is pervasive. According to the Demographic and Health Survey, less than half of women know that HIV can’t be transmitted by mosquito bites. Only 41% of women and 51% of men said they would buy fresh vegetables from an HIV-positive vendor. A majority of women and men say they would keep it a secret if a family member was HIV-positive. For many years, being HIV-positive was considered a death sentence because lifesaving drugs were nonexistent, unavailable, or unaffordable. Great efforts have been made to deliver treatment to those in need—but too many HIV-positive individuals don’t know their status, which is the first step for seeking care.

Luzayano says many of his patients had “nearly lost their hope to live.”

So he and his team go about caring for them mentally as well as physically. “We tell them stories, we give advice, we restore their hope to live,” Luzayano says. “Little by little we see people go from despairing to hopeful.”

His colleague Maguy Kuelekea Bamurondé is a nurse who values witnessing this transformation. “When a patient arrives and is really discouraged, very sick, despairing,” she reflects, “when we take care of him or her, we restore hope. Then the patient feels better and gets well. It’s what I love about my job.” She smiles like a proud mother, her eyes twinkling in the afternoon sun.

Bamurondé and Luzayano are just two reasons why CapacityPlus places health workers at the center of our efforts. In the DRC, CapacityPlus is supporting assessments to improve health worker training and HIV services. Recently, CapacityPlus assessed the capacity of seven nursing and midwifery schools as part of the Nursing Education Partnership Initiative. The results are helping inform ministries of health and education, as well as the schools themselves, so they can address priority challenges through strategic investments, including the integration of HIV services into primary care, so that more people can access HIV prevention, treatment, and care.

These efforts will help train more dedicated health workers who can apply their skills and knowledge to transform HIV patients from despair to hope. And every time this happens, as Luzayano affirms, “it’s really amazing.”

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