What you can do to support the students of Garissa

#147NotJustaNumber

 

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Many of you have asked me how you can show your love and support for the students of Garissa, Kenya. I have an answer.

All of the approximately 650 surviving students from the Garissa University campus are being moved to the Moi University main campus, just outside of Eldoret, Kenya where I work. Apparently, many of the traumatized students expressed the desire to stay together (at least in the short term) rather than being dispersed to campuses across the country.  The faculty and staff from Garissa will also be moving to Eldoret and will be working out of a building on our medical school campus in Eldoret.  So, we are taking them in.

Many of these students, who were already among the poorest in Kenya, were forced to abandon everything they owned when they fled Garissa. They woke up to this crazy shooting in their dormitories and they fled with only their lives. For my friends in Kenya, the University is looking for donations of clothes, basic necessities, and funds to support these students and staff in their difficult transition.  The IU House is happy to coordinate donations in person. The staff in the psychiatry department will be trying to address the mental health needs of the students and staff who are suffering from their recent trauma. I am so glad that they are in this place.We want to show them welcome and love and support.

If you want to provide a donation to support these students - many of whom are impoverished, traumatized, and now facing a major transition in their lives - we have now set up an account for donations through the IU Center for Global Health office in Indiana. These donations will go directly to the support the students needs, managed through our team at the university on the ground.

The easiest way to make a donation is to go to www.ampathkenya.org, click on the "donate" page at the top, this will take you to a donation page where there are two options.

  • The first option is Indiana Institute for Global Health, Inc (IIGH, Inc). If one clicks on the IIGH, Inc link, it will bring one to a donation page. That donation page has a comments section at the bottom, and one must write "Garissa students" there in order to ensure the donation gets directed appropriately.
  • The second option is the IU Foundation. If one clicks on the IUF link on our web page, it will bring you to the IUF page with IU-Kenya operating fund as the only option in the drop down menu. One would then have to put "Garissa students" in the section labeled "in honor of", and that way we will know the donation is specifically for them.

This may seem like a far-away tragedy, but these are students just like mine -- and just like yours. They are eager to learn, smart, talented, and ready to grow into Kenya's future. For students who evacuated with very, very little in the midst of trauma they had never imagined, even a small gift will mean a lot. We will make sure it gets there directly.

Show the youth of Kenya that 147 is not just a number.

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With some of my Moi University students in January

 

 

Posted at 20:47

April Amazingness

I love it when new possibilities open up to improve the health and well-being of our children living with HIV!

Here are 3 new and exciting things that just developed in my world to begin April (not fooling!):

1. More film-making! My team is partnering with our talented friend, Thomas Lewis, to make more films in Kenya to benefit our youth and families living with HIV. Our goal with this new project is to produce a series of short, dramatic films that target the issue of living in a place where those with HIV are stigmatized and discriminated against. Through the efforts of our multidisciplinary team, we now have 2 grants to make this film project possible. We have been working on scripts based on the stories of our youth and families, and we plan to start filming in June. I can't wait to have these films as a tool to use with our kids, families, schools, and elsewhere in the community. Hooray!

Thomas and I after a day of film-making on our first project in 2013
Thomas and I after a day of film-making on our first project in 2013

2. Under Armour amazingness! I got a rather urgent call from my administrative assistant today about 2 pallets of boxes arriving at my office. (For those of you who have never been to my office, it already resembles a storage unit as it is inevitably packed with supplies to bring to Kenya.) Through the great work of The Pocket Square Project, Under Armour sent us a ton of brand-new sneakers for our kids in Kenya! They are amazing, and I know that our adolescents are going to love them. Somewhere in the piles of boxes, there is also some other athletic gear too. I can't wait to share these things for our healthy living - youth activity days this summer. Now, we just need to carry them over to Kenya...

Oh my word! Look at all this stuff! The kids are going to be thrilled.
Oh my word! Look at all this stuff! The kids are going to be thrilled.

3. Working on improving children's adherence to HIV medicines around the globe! The last few months have been a whirlwind of travel with launching the new projects on children's adherence in South Africa and Thailand, and then participating in global meetings on adolescents with HIV in Italy. I also am writing a new grant proposal to expand this work. Plus, there's something much bigger in the works that I cannot announce yet, but am very excited about.  AMFAR and TreatASIA featured our Thailand launch on their website and in their newsletter.

With our team at the Thai Red Cross HIV Research Centre
With our team at the Thai Red Cross HIV Research Centre
Posted at 15:18

Bangkok: Launching our project with the Thai Red Cross HIV Center

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My latest research adventures brought me to Bangkok, where we launched and trained another site for our project to figure out the best way to monitor children's adherence to HIV therapy across sites around the world. I really love seeing this work expand across the global sites providing HIV care.

The Thai Red Cross has been caring for patients with HIV in Bangkok since 1985. They are true pioneers in what it means to provide HIV care for patients in poor places. In the Thai Red Cross HIV Research Center, they provide care for a large number of children, adolescents and adults who are also enrolled in key AIDS research studies. Most of their children are on the older end because they have been providing HIV care for so many more years. This makes them a great site with which to work to figure out the challenges of transitioning children with HIV into adolescence and adulthood.

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Not only was this site well-equipped to launch our new research project, but they enthusiastically welcomed me to do teaching for two of the medical schools in Bangkok about pediatric adherence to HIV therapy. Moreover, the Thai Red Cross team hosted us with great enthusiasm, making sure my program manager and I saw the highlights of the city and ate, ate, ate our way across Bangkok. Such fun.

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The Thai Red Cross team with me at the Grand Palace

Posted at 08:56

Research Fun in Johannesburg!

For me, the whole reason to do health research is to figure out how to make healthcare work better. I wanted to know what would work. I ended up in global health research (As an English major! Who hates statistics and math!) because the issue of how to save the lives of children in the poorest parts of the world was critically important to me. I wanted to tackle big, giant problems killing children and I wanted to know what solutions would really make a difference.

I wanted to figure out how to best care for children with a really complicated disease who are growing up the poorest parts of the world. If you can create a healthcare system that can do that, you can do anything. That's why I do research.

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This week has been a really exciting step in seeing those dreams come into fruition. For years, I have been struggling with the challenge of how to know which families in Kenya are having the most problems with maintaining HIV therapy for their children. We know it's a major challenge to have a child taking 3-4 different medicines two days a week for the rest of their life, and we need to know how we can help families with that challenge. We have studied this like crazy in Kenya. Now, we are starting to look at the rest of the world's HIV programs.

I chair the global consortium of programs providing HIV care for children (called IeDEA), and we want to figure out a consistent way to measure children's adherence to HIV medicines for HIV care programs around the world. This week's exciting step for that has been to test out the procedures we have been developing in Kenya, and to see how they do when you use them at other sites in East Africa, South Africa, and Asia.

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Launching this new project at the Rahima Moosa Children's Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa has been ridiculously fun. All week, my program manager and I have been doing training sessions here in Johannesburg and learning about this clinical system -- all to get ready to launch an HIV medication monitoring project here.

They have a lot more resources than our clinics in Kenya, but they also serve a very poor population of children and their caregivers. Spending time in the largest child HIV clinic here in Johannesburg feels like home; bring me to the children and families struggling with HIV in the poorest parts of the world, and I am among my people. (And I can speak to these families in English! Such a delight for explaining things!) The South African clinicians and I have bonded over our shared challenges.

Johannesburg has more resources than Kenya (And roads! And wine! And shopping!), but they also still have a major HIV problem here. Among the pregnant women coming to the largest mother-baby hospital to have their babies, 1 in 3 has HIV. ONE in THREE pregnant mothers. HIV is still everywhere. Passing this terrible virus into the bodies of beautiful babies and children.

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I love new ideas, and of course, new ideas are born daily when I am among my kindred hearts. We keep dreaming up more and more ways to collaborate across Eastern and Southern Africa to help our families. We struggle with so many of the same challenges. And we want to answer questions about what will work and about how to provide better care for families with children with HIV.

Long days, but fun, fun, fun.

Posted at 05:14

I want a magic wand.

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If I had a magic wand, I would give Wangari parents.

Wangari is small for her 8 years and getting smaller. She is a frail, meek girl who sits quietly on the chair in front of me in this distant, rural HIV clinic close to the border of Kenya and Uganda. She is wearing filthy, tattered clothes and smells of the kind of deep poverty that makes one pay attention in even a very poor place.

Wangari lives with her grandmother, a woman too old and weak to make the journey to HIV clinic, and so she was brought in for this appointment to see the visiting pediatrician by a neighbor.

She really should have been started on the medicines to fight the HIV virus quite a few months ago, but without a mother or a father to take responsibility for giving her medicines -- with only this ancient grandmother -- no one was sure that she should be started on HIV medicines at all.

On this day, lacking my magic wand, but having a fairly magic prescription pad, I decided we didn't have any other choice. Wangari is losing weight, and her body is being taken over by the diseases of the skin and mouth and lungs that sneak in when your immune system is non-existent.

I talked to the neighbor for a long, long time, drawing pictures and asking questions, trying to determine if she was really serious about helping this little girl take these 4 medicines twice a day and if she understood the weight of this treatment. She needs these medicines every single day. Let's see if there is any possible way to make this happen.

With these medicines, Wangari will grow again. She will be able to laugh and play and go to school. These medicines mean a future for this little girl. But who will give them?

I tried to involve the social workers to follow up with a visit to Wangari and her grandmother. I tried to convince our nutrition support team to make sure there is enough food, but I just don't know if this will be enough.

Wangari's little body was covered with scars collected over a childhood of no one caring too much what happens to you. I wished I could erase her scars. I wished for a magic wand again.


But if I REALLY had a magic wand, I would use it for the emergency.

From my imaginary valentine, Bono, a few years ago:

I became the worst scourge on God's green earth, a rock star with a cause. Christ! Except it isn't a cause. Seven thousand Africans dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease like AIDS? That's not a cause, that's an emergency. And when the disease gets out of control because most of the population lives on less than one dollar a day? That's not a cause, that's an emergency.

Posted at 05:12

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