Thursday, June 15, 2006

VIH/SIDA Adventures

I received an email from my buddy Aaron (shout out to the Junction) with questions about my projects and I thought I would answer them publically so all could enjoy and maybe encourage others to ask cuz life is getting to be a lot like life and doesn't seem quite so much like an adventure anymore and I'm not sure what you want to hear about. Way to be a trend setter Aaron!

Anyway, I am going to start with my VIH/SIDA (HIV/AIDS) project. The whole thing started months ago when I attended a informational charla at my school. Among other things I found out that there were 29 current SIDA patients in my barrio alone. Generally when you are talking about HIV/AIDS, at least in Costa Rica, they have what they call the "rule of nine." That means that for every single diagnosed case there are most likely 9 people that have the disease that have not been diagnosed. There are 3000 people in my barrio, so taking this into consideration the HIV/AIDS rate is about 1 in 10. That is really, really high and really, really scary. General consciousness regarding the disease is practically non-existant. For example, I mentioned that I was working on an HIV/AIDS project to a barrio resident and he said, "That is so sad that they have that disease in Africa." So to say the least, an education program is lacking.

As far as my program and projects go. I have ALOT of liberty to work on projects that the community needs and/or wants. This is really great because I have the freedom to work on an HIV/AIDS project even though it may not directly fall under "Children, Youth and Families." Of coarse, being thrown into a foreign community and being told "Okay Do-Gooder; Go do good," was a little disorienting. But now I have got my feet under me more or less and am rolling.

I am currently trying to get some local institutional body to take up a project. I keep running into more and more "here and there" organizations that have small projects. I am hoping that at some point we will be able to form some sort of committee or association that will focus primarily on education and prevention. Ideally this will be sponsored or within an existing institution so that it will maybe stick around for a while. Not that it would be guaranteed even then. But, since the goal is sustainability....

The local hospital has an HIV/AIDS clinic that treats a massive population within a huge geographical area. Right now they are treating aproximately 175 patients. It is important to note that the hospital only treats adults age 18 and up. There is a children's hospital in San José that treats children, ages 0-15. If you are paying attention you might notice that there is a three year age gap, 15-18. If you happen to be a young person in this age group with HIV/AIDS, or basically any ailment the local clinic can't treat, you are salado. (That is means "S.O.L." in Spanish.) Right now I am primary working with the hospital. One plus in Costa Rica is that all HIV/AIDS treatment is provided under the national health care, so pharmeceutical treatment is actually available. The down side being that the lack of HIV/AIDS consciousness is pretty much across the board. Confidentiality really doesn't exist here so many people don't get tested because of the stigma. It is not uncommon for patient's to be discriminated against including losing their jobs, friends, etc. There are even cases when their families toss them out of the house. So there is quite a bit of social pressure to remain ignorant.

Currently the education branch of the HIV/AIDS clinic is ran by the nurse. Sometimes the doctor helps out. Two major problems with this; the first being that if they are giving charlas in schools, they are not treating patients; and the second being that they focus primarily on the physical health end of the disease and do not address the social factors that play a huge role in prevention, seeking treatment and living with the disease. So we are trying to work on that. Then there is the church; Costa Rica's officially a Catholic country... Need I say more?

I have found pockets of people and organizations currently working on this. Hopefully we can get something going. Fortunately and also unfortunately, there is only so long that they can ignore this disease before there is a major catastrophy and they are MADE to pay attention. So I guess there is some hope.


Anonymous said...

Keep in mind that what has all of a sudden become your "routine" life is incredibly fascinating to the rest of us! Your experiences are so out of the ordinary for most of us as we go through our truly routine lives. We love hearing about your trials and challenges, successes and triumphs-- you're doing an amazing job juggling all the pieces at one time.

You are in the right time and place to make a difference in the lives of others, even if it seems like baby steps to you at the time.

We all applaud your efforts and dedication! Keep up the good work and know that we're all rooting for you and look forward to your blogs...keep 'em coming!

Anonymous said...

Kelly, On the age gap for health treatment, was that just accidently overlooked or is there a specific reason. Sounds like you have your work cut out for you especially on the education/un derstanding and acceptance side of the AIDS issue. It's amazing how we as a society are well aware of the active sex and pregnancies in very young people and don't think that sexual disease can be a consequence for that behavior and then when it occurs we disown them. Let alone the diseases that are past on from sex exploitation of children. Then add to the factor of the belief system that as long as the man is providing for his family, it is ok to screw around with as many women as he pleases and in turn bring some diseases home and pass on too his wife and possibly kids. It makes me want to throw up. Sorry, I'm all worked up now. Love ya lots. We are heading to Mexico with Denise and Bill for a weeks vacation so I'll talk to you soon.

Anonymous said...

Before I read the second to last paragraph about the catholic church, I was thinking that you should go get some clergy involved in addressing the AIDS/HIV issue. God willing (pun intended) there is at least "one" willing clergy member or community leader that is willing to participate in a education program.
Hey, what would they do if you started handing out condoms on the street corner? :)