I went out to eat at a local restaurant and the owner came over to talk to me. She asked what I was doing in Botswana, and after explaining that I was a Peace Corps Volunteer and where I worked, her eyes got wide. She told me she had a former worker who was HIV positive and was very sick. She didn't know where the woman could go for help and I told her I would see what the nurses at LCCT could do.
We set up an appointment and the woman came in. She looked very frail and could barely walk. I greeted her and then showed her to the consultation room. She stayed in there with the nurses for an hour or so while they learned about her situation and her health.
Basically, this woman is in a terrible situation. She is HIV positive and also has TB. She is currently on TB treatment but is not on ARV's. She has a young child and is currently moving between different relative's houses and sleeping in a different place each night. Her boyfriend was supporting her but he left when he found out she was HIV positive. Most of her family wants nothing to do with her because of her health status and she has no way of earning an income to support herself and her child.
Botswana offers free ARV treatment for citizens living with HIV/AIDS but there are a few hoops to jump through. When a person registers for the treatment, they need a family member with them who will agree to also come in to the counselling and to help the affected person with adherence.
The nurses called every family member this woman had and only her father agreed to meet and talk about taking care of her. This is important because she can get on treatment if the father agreed to attend the counselling and help out. I was encouraged to hear this and was happy to see that we had helped this woman.
That elation didn't last very long. I heard that after having the meeting, the father would not agree to take care of his daughter or attend the counselling. This woman basically now has few avenues and little hope of getting on treatment.
During training, we talked a lot about the stigma from HIV/AIDS. (And I don't pretend for a moment that stigma is only a problem here, its definitely a big problem all over the world). It is quite a shock when an abstract lesson become reality right before your eyes, and the whole thing just makes me sick. I still struggle to grasp how a society can turn a blind eye to a disease that currently affects 20% of the population.
This woman has a disease that will kill her. She could get on treatment and get better and live a longer life if only one of her family members cared enough to help. Ignorance may be bliss but it sure doesn't solve anything.