World AIDS Day: HOPE in Namibia
On this World AIDS Day, I am feeling very inspired by colleagues in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Namibia, the same country where I first decided to join the fight quite a few years ago.
While I was working as a physical therapist, I decided to take up work as a volunteer teacher of math and physical science in the north of Namibia in 1999. It is here that I was first impacted by HIV/AIDS. At the time, before antiretroviral therapy (ART) was available in Africa, a diagnosis with HIV in Namibia was a veritable death sentence. I stood by and watched as friends and colleagues wasted away emaciated, often stricken with diarrhea and then passed away from infection that their weakened immune system could not fight off. HIV was then a mysterious and highly stigmatized condition in the community where I lived. Some of the parents of my grade 9 and 10 students were dying, members of the large household where I lived were dying. In the pancake flat environment where I lived I could spot about eight homes as I scanned in each direction from the home where I lived that everyone had at least one member who died from AIDS-related illnesses. All of this happened within the first year and a half of my arrival to Namibia 17 years ago. All we had at the time were messages about the importance of people who were struck by the disease to live with a positive attitude. This did little to ease the suffering of people diagnosed with HIV which often quickly progressed to AIDS.
While I was living amongst this tremendous suffering, I decided that I wanted to join the fight against HIV/AIDS. We have come a long way and things have changed significantly. Lifesaving ART is available. HIV testing is available. Now with Project HOPE as the Africa Regional Director, I feel fortunate to lead an inspiring team who are fighting HIV/AIDS in Namibia and across the African continent. We are now at a stage in this battle where we can seriously talk about strategies to end AIDS in Namibia in the next 15 years and on the continent of Africa as well. This sense of optimism and hope was expressed again at Namibia’s first National AIDS Conference during the week leading up to World AIDS Day. Many of us come to conferences like this to feel reenergized, recommitted and inspired by the work of those around us. The conference has worked well in that regard for me and I look forward to sharing ideas and striving for real public health solutions with the Project HOPE team to save lives in the future. And Project HOPE even won a first-ever Namibia HIV/AIDS Hero Award for Civil Society!