Friday, May 13, 2011

HIV Prevention training

Banjul, Gambia

One of my friends that came down on this trip to the Gambia and Guinea-Bissau works in HIV Education and Prevention so as part of this trip we got to watch some of the training she sponsored and coordinated in the Gambia. The instructors were doctors who gave a good presentation on how HIV is transmitted, showed graphic pictures, gave a demonstration on how to use male and female condoms, talked about stigma, and answered questions from the group. Most of the speakers were male, but the female speaker they affectionally called "Aunty" stole the show. There were only three females in the crowd of about 65 people who attended the class and Aunty directed some of her comments to the women, like don't fall for sexual harassment for a promotion because most likely they don't have the power to promote you if you have sex with them. However, Aunty's greatest role was to give a wife's perspective on HIV and AIDS and she spoke to them in the local language so I didn't understand much but the crowd continuously roared with laughter. I thought her perspective was interesting as many men in the Gambia have more than one wife.

The Gambian doctors boiled HIV prevention down to the A, B, Cs:
A- Abstain. This caused a lot of chatter in the local language, but some devout Muslims were being cheerfully poked by their friends for abstaining by reason of their religion and they had never touched a woman. They were a very small part of the group.
B- Be Faithful. Don't cheat and if you have more than 1 wife, don't stray outside of your family.
C- Condoms. Less than 10 Dalasis per condom (approx $0.36 USD) and many free condoms were available at the meeting and other hospitals and offices around the city.

After the meeting the participants walked to the nearby clinic where they got a free lunch and a t-shirt for participating. Then the participants went through pre-testing counseling, drew blood for testing, and then went through post-testing counseling where a doctor or nurse privately discussed the results. Estimates of the prevalence of HIV/AIDS vary but the CIA Factbook says it's 2% in the Gambia.

I met another guy who was conducting HIV research in the Gambia with the British Medical Research Council (MRC) looking for a link between HIV-II and HIV-I. According to my new friend HIV-II patients survive much longer than those with HIV-I although it is possible to have both at the same time. The hope is to find a way to help HIV-I patients live longer by learning from HIV-II. The MRC is conducting a longitudinal study with local infected patients and is hopeful although concerned that funding is decreasing.

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