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Eliminating the Spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa: One Small Medical Caravan at a Time

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If the only image you have of Africa is that of a continent continually in a state of crisis, then you are severely mistaken. It is time Westerners stop characterizing Africa as a bottomless pit of despair, and a continent ridden in abject poverty. We can no longer afford to distort its reality with misconceived assumptions. We must put down our stereotypical brushes and paint a new and accurate portrait of the people of Africa who continue to push for equality and who are a part of our global community.

Recognizing this, community leaders have embarked on an historic effort to end new HIV infections among children and reduce the number of women living with HIV who die from pregnancy-related causes. In the past decade, global solidarity in the AIDS response continues to generate unprecedented health gains including; reducing the number of both adults and children newly infected with HIV, in lowering the numbers of people dying from AIDS-related causes and in implementing enabling policy frameworks and strategies that accelerate progress.

For instance, more than 90 per cent of the children who acquired HIV infection in 2011 live in sub-Saharan Africa. There, the number of children newly infected fell by 24 per cent from 2009 to 2011. Thus, even as the global economic recovery remains uncertain, our vision of reducing and eliminating AIDS-related deaths remains high on the international agenda.

Striving to keep this positive and progressive momentum going, the Canada-Africa Community Health Alliance (CACHA), a non-government organization based in Ottawa, seeks to improve population health and provide HIV care, vocational centers for children affected by HIV, and education to remote communities in Benin, Tanzania and Uganda through medical caravans.

Although many of the reports on HIV and AIDS are encouraging, challenges remain. Few children in Tanzania possess the skills or capital to secure basic necessities and their access to basic health care is severely limited. Countless other children find themselves vulnerable, caring for one or both of their chronically ill parents or siblings, often as a result of HIV or AIDS, and regularly lack the opportunities for personal growth and development, as well as survival. In response to these troubling circumstances, CACHA and the Kilema District Hospital in Tanzania have implemented the Tegemeo Kilema Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) Support Program as well as the Children Living with HIV and AIDS program (CLWHA).

CACHA's efforts in tackling HIV/AIDS, more specifically, are accomplished through the provision of free or subsidized health care and medical supplies to communities that lack services including: primary health care, general medicine consults, reproductive health, onsite HIV testing and referrals, individually tailored support for those infected with or affected by the virus, and health education with an aim to correct common misconceptions about HIV/AIDS, reduce stigma and discrimination and empower individuals to make informed decisions about their health.

According to one of CACHA's loyal and dedicated locally engaged staff in Tanzania, Ms. Irene Abusheikh, "Beyond the lack of basic necessities, these children are also affected by the psychological trauma of losing one or both parents, or having to deal with their own positive status. However, programs like the OVC or CLWHA assist over 1,980 patients regularly who attend clinics, receiving ARV's, counseling and peer support."

CACHA builds upon existing resources, the skills and knowledge of its partners and organizations already active in the community to achieve their objectives and ensures that these children have a brighter future. "We want these children not only to survive the impact of HIV/AIDS but also to become productive members of their community and help break down social barriers," Ms. Abusheikh said. Where most of these children would never have had the opportunity to attend school and contribute positively to their communities' development, CACHA provides one medical caravan at a time to ease the pain and suffering of those with already so much to face.

A new era of hope and will has emerged in countries and communities across the world that have previously been devastated by AIDS. Whether we are national leaders or children, we all have a role to ensure that 100 per cent of humanity can share in what so many of us take for granted; basic health care and the ability to put an end to preventable deaths.

For more information on CACHA or how to get involved please visit: http://cacha.ca/