It was a long flight from Amsterdam to Kampala, but I had the good fortune to sit next to a the lovely Simona Schiava, a doctor from Milan (who looked to me more like Sophia Loren than anyone I've ever met, by the way) who has been working in Uganda for 8 years in an HIV clinic. Her clinic is supported by an English charity called Mild May.
Half way into a ten hour flight, we discovered our mutual interest in HIV/AIDS health issues, which made the flight go faster. She spoke of some of the challenges of working in Uganda, including the emotional burden of coming from Europe to work where the need is so devastating. For the first 6 months, she said she cried quite a lot from the heartbreaking things she saw even when kids have access to treatment. She told me a story about an 8 year old boy she treated who had been born HIV+. He loved to play football (soccer), but due to diabetic complications he got an infection in his leg, which had to be amputated. Happily, he got a prosthetic leg and was very happy playing soccer once more until it was found that he had cancer. This was beyond the treatment they could give and he passed away. Even when they are able to go beyond providing even simple basic needs like water and drugs, it still can be overwhelming when cards are so overwhelmingly stacked against children's lives.
She told me not to be surprised if a mother asks me to take a child with me because the mother feels she cannot take care of her baby. This has happened to her on a number of occasions. "It gives you an idea of how desperate they are."
I have just a few more moments on this computer, but I want to make a few more points of things I learned from her.
- Sometimes challenges come from culture. Even 4 years ago, there were still rumors of white people putting the AIDS virus in lubricants for condoms to give Ugandans AIDS and suppress them. This makes AIDS prevention highly challenging with such misconceptions in attitude.
- Mother to child transmission is prevented not only with drugs but with the rising commonality of C-section baby delivery so that the child is not exposed to as much of the mother's blood at birth
- She advised me to not be afraid to ask questions of the women I meet. She said they are very candid and will understand I am there to tell their stories to bring help to the country.
Thank you, Dr. Simona!!!