“strategy is largely focussed around reducing the incidence and impact of HIV/AIDS and economic empowerment.”

Diagnosis

The Daughters of Charity’s strategy is largely focussed around reducing the incidence and impact of HIV/AIDS. This outcome is brought about through a combined approach of diagnostics; education; counselling/supporting those who are HIV+ with income generating.

Diagnosis

HIV is a virus which infects and destroys cells of the immune system, and transmitted by an exchange of bodily fluids (usually occurring during sexual intercourse, blood-transfusions, and needle sharing).

The longer the infection is left untreated, the more damage is done to the immune system, leaving sufferers at risk of secondary infections and cancers. Eventually, an untreated HIV infection leads to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), in which the body struggles to fight off infection, which causes much suffering and is generally fatal. The sooner HIV is diagnosed, the sooner it can be treated, which reduces the damage done to the immune system, and improves the quality and longevity of a sufferer’s life. Early diagnostics and intervention strategies also lower the probability of transmission, as infected people can modify their behaviour which may normally lead to more infections (particularly between infected mothers and their children). This is why early diagnostics is such a useful, holistic tool in the fight against HIV.

The Daughters of Charity fund and run St Mary’s laboratory and Free-standing HCT/HIV counselling and testing Centre in Addis Ababa. This is one of only three HIV diagnostic centres in the whole of Ethiopia. With expensive equipment which is also costly to maintain and staff which require specialist training, it is crucial that funding from donors increases, so that the scope of this operation may keep up with Ethiopia’s rapidly expanding population.

HIV/AIDS diagnostics in St Mary’s clinic

Prevention/Health Education

The Daughters of Charity aim to increase awareness about HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia, by educating communities (particularly at-risk demographics) about the disease, how it is transmitted, and how it can be avoided. There is also an emphasis on reducing the stigma and discrimination faced by people infected with HIV, which often marginalises sufferers and further reduces their quality of life. Primarily, four out of the fourteen houses are leading the way for increased HIV education in Ethiopia: St Mary’s House, Addis Abbaba; Daughters of Charity in Danka, Dembidollo; Daughters of Charity St. Vincent’s House, Mekelle; and St. Justin De Jacobis House, Alitena. Their geographical scope is far reaching, and significant gains are currently being made by targeting messages towards at-risk groups. At-risk groups generally include school children, impoverished women living with and without HIV, and couples. Targeting these demographics is a way of reducing risky behaviours and lowering transmission of HIV to the new generation. Such interventions have proven to be highly effective; a study by Alemu et al (2012) recently stated that Prevention of Mother To Children Transmission (PMTCT) educational strategies enable seropositive women to make informed decisions about whether or not to have children, and modify infant feeding practices which can reduce HIV transmission from mother-to-child to 10% or less. Currently, the Daughters of Charity are providing vast numbers of at-risk individuals with crucial education. For example, in the Hadinet and Adi-Haki Sub-cities of Mekelle alone (Tegrai region), 200 youths and 50 pregnant women were provided with HIV education and support in 2016. Religious leaders were also included to mobilise 400 community members in the fight against HIV stigmatism and discrimination. It is hoped that in the future, and with sufficient funding, the scope of these operations can increase both geographically and in terms of numbers.

Counselling and Support

The Daughters of Charity are also committed to reducing the impact HIV/AIDS has on the lives of suffers and their families. This includes psychological support, counselling, peer support, and employment/training opportunities, training on Health/Sanitation and Anti-Retroviral Therapy Adherence and financial support. For example, in St Mary’s, seropositive women are trained in weaving, gardening, pottery, and sheep fattening. These activities, whilst positively impacting the employment prospects of sufferers, are also powerful tools in improving mental health and provide women with a sense of purpose and wellbeing.