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.
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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May 6, 2014

A critical moment for Mali

Due to political conflict during the past 2 years over 350,000 Malians have fled their home. Some refugees crossed boreders into neighboring countries, while many remained as IDPs, internatally deplaced people. Malians who settled in Bamako after fleeing from violence in the North have had to face many difficulties, such as lack of housing and access to healthcare and farmland. Now, the government is urging its refugee citizens to return home. Despite the positive feelings of national rebuilding that the return of refugees signifies, the burgeoning population will strain the already limited resources. People who return home may not have time to grow enough food to support their families, and malnutrition rates are expected to rise.

In a world where there are many ongoing conflicts, Mali does not often figure on the list of countries that require attention and aid, but that does not mean it is any less of an important time to act. 

We still remain committed to our programs in Mali, and all of our voluntary testing, HIV care, and social support groups have remained functioning. In fact levels of testing rose slightly as other clinics were forced to close or reduce their programs.

At the Hope Center Clinic:

1) 150 pregnant women on average are still getting tested monthly. 

2) 30 families are still receiving nutritional support every week

3) 55 patients on average are coming for voluntary HIV testing every month.

Everyone has been holding on for two years, and it is now time to redouble our efforts as Mali returns to stability. It is a crucial moment to send renewed energy and assistance towards development programs in this country, as it heals from the past two years of turmoil, and makes its way to a peaceful future.

With your help, we can bolster our programs at the clinic, expand our vaccination research, and continue to make sure that 100% of babies born at the clinic are HIV free.

Thank you.

 

May 6, 2014

Ongoing peer support during political crisis

Although political upheaval in Mali since 2012 has forced many clinics to reduce their programs or close their doors, we are proud that our peer support groups at the Hope Center Clinic have continued to provide companionship as well as nutrition to our HIV+ patients. Food is critically important to the well being of our patients, and in the African context one cannot provide ARV treatment without thinking also about nutrition. Every year GAIA Vaccine Foundation provides a weekly meal to an average of 25 HIV+ patients and their children. We purchase food that is cooked by our patients who share the meal with their peer group, HIV- children and doctors. Sharing a meal with the staff reduces stigma, and there is always a doctor present so that the patients can ask health related questions in a less formal and more relaxed setting. Improving the nutritional status of our patients is an essential aspect of HIV care, and the number of our patients continues to expand despite the challenges that the past 2 years have presented the Malian population.

We could not have accomplished this without your support!

 

HIV+ patients cooking meals together
HIV+ patients cooking meals together
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