MADRID, Spain, MARCH 3, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Treating AIDS patients in Africa is much different from dealing with those in Europe, says a director of the Peace Missions of the Rome-based Community Sant’Egidio.
The community has worked for a decade to eradicate AIDS in Mozambique. Its success in that country has enabled it to extends its endeavors elsewhere in Africa. Over the past four years, a project has been under way to combat maternal-offspring infection. Here, Jesús Romero explains the project in this interview.
Q: How did the Sant’Egidio Community begin to combat AIDS on Africa?
Romero: With the advent of anti-retrovirals in 1996, the Sant’Egidio Community was keen to have the medical advancements in Europe, which made the sickness virtually chronic but not necessarily mortal, arrive in Africa. Added to the fact that it is not right that a part of the world is deprived of these medical advancements because of lack of material resources.
We have been involved in effective anti-retroviral therapy for four years. Now we are taking this health project also to Malawi and Guinea-Bissau. Mozambique was the first country because we knew it well, as we took part in the mediation for peace in that country.
Q: What has your work been like during these years?
Romero: It is a difficult struggle, but one that can yield great fruits. We first treated the sickness only through medication, that is, with the European system, but we realized right away that our line of work in Africa had to be different.
Q: What is the essential difference between Europe and Africa in regard to the treatment of AIDS?
Romero: The essential difference is that in Europe the AIDS patient, in general, has his basic needs taken care of, meaning by this his food, medical checkups, family care, and even health itself. In Africa, the people who come to our centers lack health, food, etc.
Because of this, we think that the struggle against AIDS in Africa must be approached from a global and not just a pharmacological view of the person.
Therefore we have established a global approach to AIDS, which includes health agents visiting patients in their homes, supplying food, supporting the family and, of course, free therapy.
Q: Among your criteria is the rejection of condoms as a preventive measure against AIDS; in fact, your centers don’t supply condoms. Why?
Romero: No epidemic in the history of medicine has been overcome by prevention. In all honesty, we think that the way to prevent it is by curing, facilitating the test, and furnishing the means so that patients start medicating themselves, because to date the rest of the measures provided have proved insufficient or don’t work.
The problem begins when a person arrives with HIV symptoms. We do the tests and, if the sickness is confirmed, we start treatment immediately.
After a few months, when the person has recovered his health, and is living an almost normal life again, then the fears and taboos about the illness begin to disappear and he has the confidence to talk to others.
Several women who have been helped by the institution have formed an association. They go around the villages explaining the way HIV is transmitted. They have even succeeded in taking their partners to the consultations after convincing them that it is not an illness exclusive to whites.
Q: Is there some information in your experience of struggle against AIDS in Africa that could be applied in developed countries?
Romero: We describe as “adherence” the number of people who begin treatment and continue it over time. We have an adherence of 95-98%, this means that the people who come to our center, who feel supported, covered from the medical, social, and psychological point of view, make progress.
This is an example not only for Europe but for the rest of the world, and an indication that AIDS is an illness that must be treated in a global manner, not just from the strictly medical and pharmacological point of view.
Q: Will AIDS be defeated?
Romero: Our criterion in therapy in Africa is the supply of medicines to pregnant mothers and newborn children. We already have 1,000 children who have been born healthy from seropositive mothers.
We think that the birth of one healthy generation in Africa will guarantee the survival of this continent, because if there is no success in curing the sick and having healthy children being born, Africa will disappear.
In addition, we have a data bank that is being put at the service of research, which will also be useful when a vaccine is obtained, for Mozambique to be among the first countries to have it.