A visit to Kenya.
Recently, we had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something truly amazing: get a firsthand look at how (RED) and the Global Fund are helping people in Kenya. What an eye-opening and humbling experience.
Our days were packed with site visits and meetings with the people on the ground who are really making a difference. Not only did we get a glimpse into what it takes to run some of the many (RED)-supported Global Fund programs, but we also had the opportunity to visit with families in their homes to see the impact these programs have on their lives. It’s impossible to explain how it feels to meet a healthy, happy child who was born to a mom with HIV.
From the community healthcare workers, who encourage mothers to get treatment, to the people who drive medicine and supplies to the most remote villages, everyone we met is working tirelessly to reach the same goal: to get one step closer to the beginning of the end of AIDS.
Here are some highlights from a trip we’ll never forget.
Meredith Verdone & Michele Barlow
Bank of America’s (RED) Ambassadors
Just 30 cents a day can provide lifesaving treatment to help prevent an HIV-positive expectant mother from passing the virus to her baby.
We were lucky enough to spend some time visiting homes in Nakuru County. It’s a rural area where almost 6% of the population is living with HIV. That translates to 49,000 adults and 8,000 children who should be getting treatment. Unfortunately, it was surprising to hear that only a very small percentage — about 27% — seeks care. And that means there are lots of pregnant and breastfeeding moms at risk for spreading HIV to their children.
It’s a scenario that really hits home when you meet people like Mary and Grace. We were invited to Mary’s home in a remote village in Maraigushu. She was charming and sweet, and willing to share her story. Unbelievably captivating. Like many women, Mary found out her status when she became pregnant and received an HIV test as part of her checkup. She was both devastated and ashamed when she found out she was positive.
Luckily, a community health worker named Grace was there to help Mary through her experience. Not only was Grace able to counsel Mary, she also helped her get the proper HIV treatment. Today, Mary’s feeling healthy again. And her baby? Well, she’s now an adorable and sweet HIV-free toddler named Rachel, who has two HIV-free siblings.
There’s nothing like hearing someone’s story for yourself. Meeting Mary and Grace helped us grasp the enormity and importance of what (RED) and the Global Fund do. But with so many women in need of testing, access to medication, and support from people like Grace — there’s still so much more work that needs to be done.
600 babies are infected with HIV every day. Just a decade ago that number was 1,500.
Kenyans helping Kenyans.
When you’re sick in Kenya, going to a hospital isn’t always an option. So people rely on care from dispensaries and clinics. We were able to visit a few while there and were particularly inspired by one that’s become the model for decentralized care and support — the Kibera South Clinic. Located in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, the Clinic is run by Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), which makes free healthcare services available to anyone who needs them.
Kibera is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. By some estimates, there are a million people living within a square mile. That’s hard to wrap your head around, especially when you think New York City has only 27,000 people per square mile. Kibera is an extremely impoverished community where most people live in shacks without access to electricity, running water or proper sanitation. So it wasn’t surprising to hear that illness is pretty rampant. That’s why it was encouraging to meet with the incredible staff at the Clinic.
Opened in 2013, the Clinic offers outpatient consultations, diagnostic testing, a 24-hour maternity ward and a 24-hour crisis center. But medical care is only part of the equation. They also have health education, counseling and — perhaps most importantly — social support. At Kibera South Clinic, we were invited to sit in on a peer-to-peer meeting, led by Monique Tondoi, a health promotion officer who brings HIV-positive women together to share their experiences and help each other cope. It’s this peer-to-peer model that has become such a key part of the healthcare system in Kenya.
At one point someone said, “This is about Kenyans helping Kenyans.” And it’s the truth. (RED) and the Global Fund provide critical financial support for treatment and prevention programs, but it’s the local people running local programs who make it all happen. Seeing that with our own eyes was really special.
An HIV-positive mother can deliver an HIV-free baby. The treatment exists.
This is progress.
Nairobi County, in the heart of Kenya, has been hit especially hard by the AIDS epidemic. It was astonishing to hear how badly. Nearly one out of every 10 people is HIV positive, which is about 182,000 adults and 17,000 children. So we were eager to learn about the advancements one of their busiest local hospitals — the Mbagathi District Hospital — is making.
The Mbagathi District Hospital began offering HIV treatment back in 1997. Then in 2005, it integrated antiretroviral (ARV) treatment services into its program. As one of the first places in the country to offer the treatment, Mbagathi has definitely learned a lot along the way. In fact, it’s now regarded as one of Kenya’s knowledge hubs for treatment outcomes and medical practices. And after meeting the team there, it’s no wonder.
The hospital has the capacity to treat 700 to 1,000 patients every day. And to see the team in action really was an awesome sight. Not only does the staff of 400 provide top-quality care, they’re also extremely organized and see the bigger picture. We were really struck by the shared sense of accountability among everyone on the team. Doctors and nurses work hard tracking patient data and program statistics to make sure the hospital can account for the results of the programs they run. It made us incredibly confident that our dollars were working hard and being spent wisely.
260,000 babies are born with HIV every year. That number can be close to zero.
A great responsibility.
No matter where we went, or who we met with along the way, everyone had the same goal: to help achieve an AIDS-free generation. And while it’s probably not the most glamorous part of the process, it was interesting to see how things get from Point A to Point B. That’s where the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency, or KEMSA, comes in.
KEMSA is the medical supply chain logistics provider that makes sure everything from HIV testing kits to medications gets to 11,000 facilities and testing sites across the country — and eventually into the hands of the people who need them. KEMSA procures, stores and distributes medical commodities on behalf of the government, as well as for programs that are funded by donors like the Global Fund.
When we visited one of their 10 warehouses, we were awestruck. Seeing how massive the operation was helped to put the enormity of the disease here into perspective. And we were equally impressed with how innovative their business is. Everything is completely automated, totally paperless and exceptionally accurate. In fact, KEMSA tracks exactly how much medication a hospital or clinic should have at any time, which is essential to prevent shortages and identify when someone has ordered too much of anything.
The agency’s innovation extends beyond technology too. When it comes to HIV, some of the hardest-hit areas are the hardest to get to. So KEMSA uses any means necessary to get medication where it needs to go — sometimes by using camels and donkeys, so that they can reach even the remotest villages. You have to respect that kind of creative thinking. They see a problem and find a way to solve it. And that’s so critical to the success of everything that (RED) and the Global Fund do.
KEMSA handles about $526 million worth of health products and medicines every year.
One step closer.
So much progress has been made in the fight against AIDS in Africa over the past decade. New child infections have been cut in half. And nearly 10 million people are on lifesaving treatments — that’s up from just 300,000 in 2002. Think about that number for a minute. It’s remarkable, really. But our work won’t be done until we can welcome the first AIDS-free generation in more than 30 years.
The importance of what (RED) and the Global Fund are doing can’t be overstated. The tools needed to virtually eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV exist. But we need your help to make sure lifesaving medications continue to be available to everyone who needs them.
So from now through December 31, 2015,* for every dollar you donate to (RED), Bank of America will donate a dollar too. And together we’ll get one step closer to the beginning of the end of AIDS.
Bank of America is proud to partner with (RED). Donate now to get us one step closer to the end of AIDS.