GAIA Vaccine Foundation

Our mission is to promote prevention of infectious diseases (HIV, TB, and HPV) in Mali while working to develop vaccines for distribution on a not-for-profit basis in the developing world. The Foundation's activities are centered on four themes: education, prevention, access to care, and vaccines. Through our active, ongoing collaboration with West African physicians and support for prevention-related clinical activities in the region, we work to improve the health of Malian children and their parents while setting the stage for ethical vaccine trials.
Aug 6, 2014

Success on the fabric frontier!

Getting the ladies
Getting the ladies' opinions

We have just returned from a visit with our collaborators in Bamako, Mali!

Not only we were reporting the results of our recent study about HPV and cervical cancer in Mali, but also we are setting the stage for distribution of the HPV vaccine.

I brought 20 yards of the fabric print with me to show to neighborhood leaders and our collaborators in the scientific community. When we showed the cloth to doctors, they picked up on the imagery of the fallopian tubes, uterus, and virus, and they knew exactly what it was referring to. They were concerned, however, that patients would not have the same familiarity with scientific imagery.

In a small room at the Hope Center clinic, thirty women crowded in to hear about the cloth project and voice their opinions on the print. Leaders of the neighborhood women's groups had recently attended our conference on HPV, so in rapid-fire Bambara (the local language) they explained the connection between the virus and cervical cancer, which has an especially high mortality rate in Mali due to lack of access to testing and treatment. Although I couldn’t understand what they were saying, I watched comprehension flood their faces, as they all knew someone who had been a victim of the disease. They assured me that they could use the fabric as a teaching device when they wore it. "When people ask us questions about the pattern, we can explain the images", they said, demonstrating how they would hold out one arm with the fabric draped over it.

Even better, they all wanted the fabric! I took copious notes on the exact quantity we would need (Each lady needs 6 yards to make a matching top, skirt, and head wrap!). We received suggestions on how to tweak our slogan so that it could be better understood. The revised slogan will read, "Je me protege, je me dépiste tôt, je me vaccine", I protect myself (by avoiding risky sexual contact), I get tested early (to catch early development of cervical cancer), and I get vaccinated (against HPV).

The village chief, an elderly man, who is nonetheless very innovative and supportive of our projects, suggested the perfect slogan in Bambara to add to the cloth: “Banakoubé kafisa ni bana foura keye”, meaning, “it’s better to prevent than to cure". He understood the importance of the project right away!

We come back from this trip feeling blessed to have such fantastic collaborators in Mali. We are full of renewed energy and motivation for this project. 

This fall, we will begin the "sensibilisation" or "sensitization" campaign, meaning we will print a huge batch of the cloth and hold meetings with many, many community members to ensure that everyone understands the importance and relevancy of the vaccination campaign.

We are well on our way to our goal, but we still need your continued support!

Thank you!

Our founder Annie with Mme Rokia and Mme Badiallo
Our founder Annie with Mme Rokia and Mme Badiallo
Eliza and Socrates, our peer educator
Eliza and Socrates, our peer educator
Showing the print at the Regional Health Center
Showing the print at the Regional Health Center
Showing the print at the HIV Health Center
Showing the print at the HIV Health Center
Jul 15, 2014

New challenge

Awa Couliby and Annie De Groot
Awa Couliby and Annie De Groot

Writing to you from Bamako, Mali, I can tell you of a surprise we encountered when we visited the Hope Center Clinic: Many of our HIV+ patients are pregnant!

Yes, our Mother to Children Transmission Prevention program (MTCTP or PTME in French) is so reliable, with it's 100% HIV free birthrate, our patients are confidently increasing their families!

During a week full of meetings with many public health officials in Bamako, it was wonderful to hear praise for our successful programs. Our small clinic is considered to be one of the best in Bamako, and a model for how efficiently localized healthcare can improve lives.

As we blaze the trail for effective treatment and prevention, we strive to continue to expand our programs. Our next step will be to increase our community outreach, to draw more women to our clinic.

Your continued support is what makes us who we are!

Here is a picture of our founder and scientific director, Annie De Groot with Madame Awa Coulibay, head of the DRS, Regional Health Director.

Links:

Jul 15, 2014

We can do more!

Fish!
Fish!

Our Hope Center Clinic is an “integrated” clinic. What does that mean? All people seeking treatment are welcome, and thanks to our donor support, we have the capacity to care for HIV+ patients as well. We are the only neighborhood clinic to have this capacity in Bamako while most seropositive patients must find their way to one of the larger hospitals. Sometimes even the low cost of public transportation can prevent someone from seeking treatment, which is why we try to set the example for how HIV care could improve by providing access to medication locally.

 But why “integrated”? Why not support an HIV only clinic? The sad truth of the matter is that if anyone were to walk through the doors of a known HIV clinic, they would live in permanent fear of abuse from their own neighbors. They would risk abandonment by their family members, and permanent stigmatization by society. At the integrated clinic they can fly under the radar; they say that they are “sick” even if they look in perfect health; they say that they have malaria.

 Obviously, it would be better if everyone could disclose their status and receive the proper care they deserve, but that’s not yet a possibility in Mali, although it’s a goal that we are working towards.

 In the meantime, it is of crucial importance to provide people with peer support and nutritional assistance. By creating the Friday lunch at the clinic, seropositive patients can spend time together, and cook a large meal to share with their children as well as their well-loved doctors and nurses. Not only is food of critical importance to these patients, some of whom are living in dire poverty, but it also allows them the dignity of giving a symbolic gift of thanks to those who provide them with care and empathy.

 Last Friday, I had the honor of sharing a meal with our patients. When I arrived early in the morning, the women were already hard at work peeling garlic, chopping vegetables, frying fish, pounding spicy peppers into a sauce, and boiling rice. There were kids everywhere, living proof that our Mother to Child Transmission Prevention program (MTCTP) is so successful that our patients are confidently increasing their families.

 The women told me their stories. They spoke with pride, saying that HIV has not prevented them from living their life to the fullest. They spoke with sadness about the neighbors that insulted them, or even the husbands who had abandoned them. They spoke about living in fear that people would find out their status. They spoke about the misery of not having any food in the house and many children to feed. A young girl, born seropositive, was so shy that she barely said a word. She wanted her story told as well, and with a friend’s arm around her shoulder, she had the courage to let it out: Her mother had died, her father had remarried and his new wife abused her and insulted her because of her status.

I wish I could show you these strong women and their beautiful children. I wish you could hear their words. I need, however, to respect their wishes. They did not want photographs to appear online that connected them to HIV, they live in fear of being recognized as seropositive, although they know in other countries people would never abuse them for their status.

 How many of us would like to support charities, but worry about where our money is going and how it is being spent? The best thing about my job is that I can talk to the HIV+ patients of the clinic directly, and get their feedback about what works, so that I can assure that GAIA’s funds are put towards the most essential issues. We are trying to improve our nutritional education program.  At the Friday lunch the women told me exactly what they needed:

“We need a roof over our heads; nothing protects from the sun or rain as we cook. Look at this broken pot; we need more supplies. Look at this women with the tiny baby; she just started coming and this will be the only time today that she will get any to eat”

 We need to do more. We need to expand the nutritional support to at least twice a week. Our clinic doctors confirm that more nutritional support would help patients adhere to their medication and support their families.

With your continued support, we can provide an essential meal to HIV+ patients and their families. We don’t want to do it just once or twice, we want to keep doing it month after month, year after year, so that these women can keep caring for each other and their families, providing much needed psychological support, as we all work towards a better future. 

All my heartfelt thanks!

Hot peppers
Hot peppers

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