|The playground at Mengo Clinic|
The 80 children at Mengo Hospital’s Sat club were busy playing, running, and laughing as we arrived, and they greeted us with a performance of songs and poems. These children have not only lost at least one parent to HIV/AIDS, but they also have HIV/AIDS themselves. Most of them acquired the disease at birth from their mothers. Mengo’s HIV/AIDS clinic provides free antiretroviral drugs and other medical care to these children.
The Saturday club for HIV positive and orphaned children takes place one Saturday a month and is sponsored by MCC. The kids come to Mengo with their caregivers to play, eat, and receive scholastic materials so they are able to continue with their education. Although there is free primary education in Uganda, children still need to purchase their own materials, uniforms, and shoes in order to attend school. Last Saturday, the children were given notebooks and pencils, and measured for uniforms and shoes which they will receive before school begins early next month.
|Najjuko Lynette, 10 years old, receives her school supplies|
|Dr. Edith (left) shows us around with our MCC intern Vicky (right)|
Dr Edith Namulema, a visionary, energetic, and committed doctor, is the director of Mengo’s HIV/AIDS clinic which has been an MCC partner since 1994. She began working at the clinic during a time when HIV was extremely stigmatized, there were no effective drugs available, and very little money was available for care. Since that time, she has built and shaped the clinic into one of the best HIV/AIDS clinics in the country, providing care for almost 7000 men, women, and children affected by HIV/AIDS.
The issue of children who are both orphaned and HIV positive is one that is very close to my heart, and I wrote my graduate thesis on the care of these children. There is often a large gap in providing effective care for them, as many children’s homes will not accept HIV positive children and many relatives do not want to assume the burden of caring for a sick child, or are not able to afford the extra nutrition and medical costs that are essential to keeping them healthy. As a result, many of these children end up dying young, when treatment is available to greatly affect the length and quality of their lives.
|Mengo is quickly outgrowing their current space and is beginning an expansion project|
One great example is a young girl called Mary (named changed for privacy), who I met in 2002 the first time I traveled to Kenya. She is a girl at Grace Children’s Center in Nairobi, Kenya. When we met her she was 5 years old and extremely sick because of HIV/AIDS. She wasn’t able to participate in the activities that our group had planned, and just sat quietly on someone’s lap most of the time. We didn’t think she would live more than a few months.
Shortly after our group left, the home was able to access ARVs (HIV/AIDS drugs) for their children. When I returned to Kenya in 2005, I visited the home regularly and couldn’t believe how much Mary had changed! This little girl who I thought wouldn’t survive to reach the age of 6 was now a healthy and energetic young girl who showed no outward signs of illness. Today she is a healthy and active teenager and continues to thrive despite her illness.