IFRC

Gabon: clinics to help people live better with HIV

Published: 10 December 2007 0:00 CET



Wandrille is a pretty Gabonese woman of 30. She is HIV-positive and has come close to fading away. “My partner died. I just couldn’t get over it and was getting sicker myself each day,” she says quietly. “I said to myself: what’s the point of getting tested if I don’t have the means to get treatment? So, I was just waiting to die”.

One day, Wandrille fell into a coma and woke up in hospital. It was there that she learnt about the outpatient clinic supported by the French Red Cross. Housed in a small pavilion at the Libreville hospital centre, the clinic comprises the offices of the social worker and the psychologist, the day hospitalization room, the laboratory and the treatment room. Everything here is done with a human approach, combining treatment and reassurance, medical examinations and psychosocial support.

“Without this clinic, I would no longer be here,” explains Wandrille, who recovered her smile along with her health, which has improved since she started receiving antiretroviral treatment.

In addition to the medical benefits, the clinic also offers other services providing real added value. “Before the clinic opened, families often felt overwhelmed and powerless,” explains Chantal Zamba, the senior physician at the clinic. “Today, they have a different approach to HIV and can become involved in the patient’s care.

The clinic’s activities also include home visits made by Gabonese Red Cross Society volunteers, who help people living with HIV to follow their treatment properly. They also make sure that they are eating well and provide psychological support for the patient and the family.

Wandrille, like so many others, has benefited from the advice given by “Mama” Huguette. The clinic’s social worker set up a discussion group, which gives women a chance to meet and confide in each other. This is very important, because in Gabon, as elsewhere, people are often afraid of HIV/AIDS, and many sufferers are rejected by their families and friends because they are HIV-positive.

The discussion group also promotes mutual help among the participants. It is not unusual for them to club together to help one of the members who is experiencing financial difficulties. “I have no work, but I have to pay the rent and buy the drugs I need,” sighs Wandrille, who does, however, play an active part in community solidarity. Every weekend, the women in the group meet at a plot of land on the outskirts of Libreville, where they grow cassava and plantains.

The outpatient clinic was opened in 2001, and others have now been set up in other towns and cities around the country. There are now similar facilities in the country’s eight provinces, so that people living with HIV who are unable to travel to the capital can receive care locally. Many lives have been saved in this way.

The French Red Cross has set up and funds several such clinics in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition to those in Gabon, there are clinics in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania and the Central African Republic.

The establishment and management of these clinics is undertaken as part of a public service, at the request of the country’s Ministry of Health and in cooperation with the National Society, which carries out both upstream and downstream activities in the areas of prevention and community care for people living with HIV.

Since 2005, the French Red Cross has developed a more specific focus on the principle of family care, emphasizing the need to protect family integrity and unity.

Several programmes have been launched for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission, infant and child health, psychological care for adolescents and care and support for end-of-life patients.

Activities to promote risk reduction and provide care are also carried out for intravenous drug users and sex workers.

In the last quarter of 2007, the French Red Cross was funding 17 outpatient clinics in Africa and 2 in Asia.

These clinics provide care for 30,000 patients, 9,000 of whom receive antiretroviral treatment, including 1,300 children.




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