How to save lives when some don’t want to live.
‘Prevention’, ‘safe sex’, ‘adherence’, ‘disclosure’….. Instead of ‘where are all the nice men’, ‘where’d you get those shoes’, ‘check out this new phone’, ‘what interest rate did you lock in at’, these are my new daily conversations here in Eldoret. We talk about this all the time and the main character is HIV.
I am working with (Kenyan, USA and Canadian) doctors, nurses, counselors, MPH’s, etc-ers. The ongoing conversation is HIV and all aspects of this ramped disease.
This is my second long-term project in Kenya around HIV. This time I am building media: audio, still photos, writing scripts for question answer content and skill building videos, all in collaboration with expert advisors. The media will be embedded into software that will in way support the lack of healthcare workers here due to the ever rising cases of HIV, in a country that cannot produce enough healthcare workers to respond in time. Compete imbalance. The software installed in a tablet computer and it’s ‘avatars’ will collect baseline data through mundane questions that will free up physical healthcare workers to move closer to the root of the problem.
So, I am surrounded by these professional health care workers in the heart of AMPATH, a partnership between Indiana University (USA) and Moi University (Kenya). There are handfuls of docs and medical students in and out of where I am staying. They are here to share what they know and also learn from Kenyans. It’s an amazing program founded by an amazing man, Joe Mamlin, and once I understand more I will be more specific.
In the meantime, these students are in constant conversation about HIV and how to get it under control and maybe even bring it to a halt. Today, during my 36th HIV conversation in about a week one of the MPH students said ‘they just don’t care‘ (regarding infecting others, preventing infection themselves by using condoms). Something dawned on me. What if instead of all of this medical attention more of the focus was to make life worth living?
I mean, in a country that brews chang’aa, sodomizes 8-year-old boys as a street kid ‘initiation’ (I met him), and where cars and motor bikes don’t budge for pedestrians (I was side swiped by a motorcycle yesterday on the side of the road), extreme poverty, let alone the past elections…..? It’s hard to keep people alive when at times they don’t want to live.
What would happen if some of the money that is pumped into healthcare instead supported a monumental surge to end corruption and promote sustainable small and large entrepreneurship so that people can lead more self-reliant lives… how might that change this HIV situation?
On the other hand, and this is grim, HIV is big business. Back when George Bush enacted PEPFAR although millions of dollars were established for AIDS, drugs back then were to be commercial, not generic. Big biz for pharmaceuticals industry (though that has changed). The are so many people employed thanks to HIV, so many jobs, so much aid, so much and yet the numbers of infected people are rising. However things are improving. When I was here in ’04 (outside of Kisumu) no one would even say HIV or AIDS. Now people are getting tested and have treatment partners.
What can we do differently? Where is the most logical innovation? Mamlin is using Google Android phones and going house to house testing people, and building a map (via the gps on the phone) to test and map out the infection rate then immediately integrate treatment. That’s exciting to me for multiple reasons. Will be checking that out in the coming weeks and write about it.
In the meantime, back to work on Monday.