In the absence of a cure for HIV, for the past 30 years this question has been the center of debate. For those of us who have dedicated our lives to the fight against AIDS, recent research has given us a glimmer of hope—and may have finally ended this debate.
In May, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill released results from the HPTN 052 study which indicate that putting an HIV-positive person on treatment as soon as HIV infection was detected reduced the risk of them transmitting the virus to their sexual partners by 96%. Ninety-six percent. The evidence was so compelling that the trial was actually ended early and results published years before expected. For anyone who has worked in the uncertainty of research, this just doesn’t happen.
EFA’s beneficiaries have experienced these benefits first-hand. Since receiving treatment, their improved health status has empowered them to become HIV advocates, peer educators, and leaders in their communities, gaining the respect of those who once stigmatized them.
On World AIDS Day 2011 and every day, over 50 EFA peer educators conducted community-wide education events in over ten communities. Some members are sitting down with local religious and traditional leaders to explain how they can help achieve an AIDS-free generation. Others are going door-to-door, encouraging people to get tested for HIV at the local health center, and describing why an AIDS-free generation is important to their community.
We have the technology. For the first time ever we can actually see the way forward. We can envision an AIDS-free generation. Not a generation free of HIV, but free of AIDS.
So, forget the debate—treatment IS prevention. Putting people living with HIV on treatment early will not only extend their lives, but will also prevent new HIV infections among their HIV-negative sexual partners.
The tragedy is that this innovative and groundbreaking research comes at a time of declining levels of funding for HIV, of donor “fatigue” for financing national HIV programs, and of re-shifting priorities away from HIV strategies and towards broader health sector initiatives.
The United States government has taken a significant step. During a speech delivered by Secretary Clinton at the National Institutes of Health in November, she re-committed the U.S. government’s development efforts towards supporting the global AIDS response in achieving an AIDS-free generation. It is time for other governments to meet this call.
Through our Peer Education program our members learn the tools they need to stay healthy, live positively, and they receive education on antiretroviral drug adherence and strategies. Our peer education program trains members to go out into their communities and educate others about the basics of HIV transmission and prevention, and the importance of getting tested.
In 2011, our peer educators provided basic HIV education to over 20,000 people, and over 5,000 people were referred to their local health center to get an HIV test.
EFA is doing its part and we would like to graciously thank you for the support you’ve given us through Global Giving. We wouldn’t have made it this far without you, but we’ve still got a long way to go and count on your continued support.
We are together. Nous sommes ensemble.
modified from an EFA blog published in December 2011.
My husband died from a disease that we didn’t understand; after medical exams, the results showed that we had been infected [with HIV]. This was a huge shock for me; in addition my husband’s family began to treat me bad, insulting me, refusing to talk to me just because I was infected. I was not even allowed to eat with them anymore. To them, I had killed their son.
My husband’s family went as far as to forbid me to share and drink next to them, I could no longer use the same eating utensils as before – all this from fear that they would be infected. My life became impossible.
There was a young neighbor who had pity on me and defended me in front of my family in regards to this torture that I was living. He introduced me to a man who gave counseling, this man gave me a lot of advice and also showed me that I was not alone in this situation. He suggested that I leave my husband’s family to live with my parents.
I was extremely afraid of my parent’s reaction, but my father understood my situation and gave me a lot of examples of people in my condition that had been living for many years with this disease. He told me that I could live like the others.
Miss Oumarou, a medical counselor, talked to me about associations of people living with HIV and AIDS, at the time associations were typically for adults, but an association for youth had just been created by EFA. Thanks to EFA, I became a member of this association of youth living with HIV and AIDS. With AJEPS Mokolo [the association], I became a new person, like the others. Then the members of my association chose me to attend training on this disease and to become a peer educator. I had the taste of living a new life and I met a lot of other people living with HIV who lived in peace and at ease.
Thanks to my association I had the chance in my life to travel, eat well, and all while surrounded by a group of people who were HIV-positive and some people who were not. I even was able to sleep at a hotel during the training, this I could never have imagined; I was happy!
… After returning from the training, I became an active member of my association where I had the responsibility to buy and sell eggs for an income generating activity. Others in my association like me also bought and sold peanuts, which would help us enormously to balance our lives, to buy our medicines and to become healthy like the others.
Thanks to all these efforts, I could talk with people openly, I could even talk about my disease at church and explain to people in my local language the myths, realities and other things related to HIV and AIDS.
One day, my friend from training, Therese Pehlem, talked to me about a man in Maroua who was interested in me and who was also infected with HIV. I went to his house and I stayed there throughout all of his sickness. We still felt a lot of hope thanks to our associations, but unfortunately he did not survive. After his death the members of AJEPS Maroua [an EFA association in Maroua] asked me to integrate into their association; I was truly honored and I accepted.
Today, I am respected, I have friends, I manage the selling of water which is the income generating activity of my new association, I sleep well, I eat well and I can even help people who are in need, either for advice or for support.
The greatest thing that has touched me to this day is the exchange of ideas, the dialogue, and the friendship within the associations and during the trainings. This gives us more than hope; we have found again the will to live.
My wish today, is to see EFA International continue what they have started and with us help to save the other people who are in my situation. My last words to say are thank you to all who have had the courage to help us and to help those that we have helped.
To date, EFA International has helped create 10 associations (with another 2 currently in development) of youth infected and affected by HIV and AIDS throughout the Far North region of Cameroon. Through education, empowerment and enterprise, EFA International strives to improve the condition of life for these youth and their families. Though positive living and positive prevention, EFA International and our associations work to reduce stigma and discrimination, help others living with HIV or AIDS, and promote the prevention of HIV infection within their communities.
Irene* is petite, with almond-shaped eyes and a brillant smile. She is married with one child and an eighth grade education. Irène is HIV-epositive. These facts alone are enough to make her story brave, exceptional. Many women in northern Cameroon are told than an HIV diagnosis is a death sentence and are rejected by their families.
In 2006, Irène connected with EFA International, where she met with other HIV-positive individuals and learned how to stay healthy and live positively. She underwent EFA’s comprehensive 6-month peer education training and now teaches her village about the importance of HIV prevention. That they can protect their children and families from the scourges of AIDS in a country where one in 20 adults has HIV. That they too can defy stigma and face an ominous diagnosis to manage what has become chronic disease: requiring daily awareness, discipline, and resources, but something that does not keep them from following and fulfilling their dreams.
Then I learned that Irène was suffering from a uterine tumor. The unmonitored tumor had grown to such extent that she could feel its presence by pressing on her abdomen. If Irène was not operated on immediately,then she would not survive. She did not have the money to receive the operation. Could we step in to save the life of a woman in whom we had invested so much, and who had given so much in return?
Some colleagues warned that if EFA officially stepped in, it would open a floodgate of medical requests. Most of EFA’s youth empowerment network members do not have the luxury of insurance or extra income to cover health emergencies and rely on family and friends. But I could not stop thinking about Irène’s smile, her energy and willingness to give back to something greater.
A week passed. I received an update from EFA’s regional office. Irène’s community, family and friends had collected the money she needed for the operation. EFA saved Irène because its programs had empowered her. Her village valued the hope and knowledge that Irene was giving to young people. Irène is more than her HIV status. She is a change agent within her community.
Unfortunately, we cannot pay the hospital bills of each individual. Our Circle of Love project has just been launched on GlobalGiving to fill financial gaps so HIV-positive individuals can afford medical tests. But EFA's peer education empowers HIV-positive individuals to mobilize and know how, when, and where to seek medical care. By staying healthy and practice safe behaviors, they are less likely to transmit HIV within their communities. This positive prevention is one of EFA’s core values.
* Name has been changed to protect individual’s privacy.
My name is Laurel Chor and I am a GlobalGiving intern who is visiting all of our partner organizations in Cameroon! Let me tell you about my visit to the project that you donated to…
It is often said that in reality, it is not HIV/AIDS that kills--it is stigma that does. It is because of stigma that people are afraid to get tested, ashamed to admit their status or to seek treatment, and embarrassed to even talk about the realities of the epidemic. Stigma isolates people, strangles discussion and spreads the virus. The dream of Education Fights AIDS (EFA) is for "the idea of stigmatization to be completely erased." EFA's goal is to empower youth aged 15-35 who are affected by HIV/AIDS by helping them to create associations. Each one is independent, unique and has their own activities, but they all share three primary goals: empowerment, education and enterprise. These associations are given technical assistance, training and some funding by EFA, but ultimately they want them to be completely autonomous and independent entities. EFA also runs a peer education program, in which they train members of the associations to go back into their communities to "sensibilize" people--which means to educate them in order to remove the stigmatization and discrimination that surrounds HIV/AIDS. Each peer educator we met had a unique story, but they all had a common thread: thanks to EFA and to the associations, they were transformed from a lost, humiliated and hopeless person to a confident and passionate advocate who is respected in their communities. In these associations, HIV-affected youth find a second family and a newfound purpose in life. Youth who were once kicked out of their homes after finding out their HIV status were now invited back as favored children after proving that they could be productive members of society, thanks to their associations' income-generating activities. Now, parents approach EFA directly, asking them to help their HIV-positive children--something that was entirely unheard of just a few years ago. Sali did not have a choice when she was married off at the age of 13. She found out she was HIV+ a year after her husband died of AIDS. At the time, she didn't know much about HIV--she was taught about it in school but she thought that it was "only for prostitutes, and that married couples were spared." This is exactly the kind of stigmatization that she now fights against. She is currently the president of her local association and is determined to allow her daughters to marry who they want, when they want--no matter the social pressures. Thérèse Pehlem, 32, has been a member of her association since 2006. She described her feelings when she found out she was HIV-positive: I had no hope, I was alone, I was stuck, I was lost. I told myself that life was over. Now, she is not only a peer educator, but a trainer of peer educators: "I used to be scared, but now, put me in front of a church, a crowd, a whole community! They ask me left and right to talk about my experiences!" When I asked her if she could say something in a video, she leaped at the request, ready to talk, and it was clear that this was where she excelled and shined--speaking about HIV to teach others. Albert Jumbo, 36 years old, has been a member for 5 years. Having lost his wife to AIDS just a year ago, he raises four young children on his own. When he first found out he was HIV+, he told himself that he would just sell all his things, and live the rest of his life in isolation and idleness: "I didn't care about associations, and I didn't even want to be near these people… but now I'm a peer educator, and I'm not even scared of sensibilizing a whole church congregation!" It was truly inspiring to hear about the personal transformations of the individuals we met, and they were so vibrant and passionate that it was almost hard to believe that they had once lost all hope. Amazingly, not a single member of all of EFA's associations has passed away in the past two years--a testament to the life-changing effects of EFA's associations.
EFA Activities for April-June 2011
EFA International's peer educators and support associations continue to expand with increasing projects and activities. In March and April, a TrustAfrica grant enabled EFA International's peer educators to reach more than 8,000 community members in more than 10 communities with talks about sexual- and gender-based violence (S-GBV). Peer educators focused on discussing preventing S-GBV and communicating gender equality education messages.
EFA International's Treasurer, Andrew Koleros, and Secretary, Kayt Dickens, also visited the regional office in Maroua, Cameroon for a couple weeks this quarter as part of a consulting and monitoring and evaluation visit. While in Maroua, Kayt attended several of the associations' meetings; visited two associations' enterprise projects; conducted computer trainings in Picasa, Google Docs and Google sites with regional office personnel; and conducted follow-up interviews with participants of the S-GBV trainings.
Andrew conducted site visits to associations while in Maroua, and associations also set their goals for 2011. Goals include additional member recruitment, increasing the number of community education sessions, and improving income generation activities. Associations also identified their strategies for achieving these goals, as well as discussed what technical assistance EFA International can offer to aide in meeting the goals.
This quarter, the Maroua regional office hired an accountant. The office also is improving operations by implementing weekly staff meetings to discuss both current and upcoming projects. EFA International's technical assistants are continuing to develop new associations in the communities of Pete and Bogo, both in the Extreme North of Cameroon. EFA International's Program Manager, Technical Advisor and Peer Educator Trainer are in the planning stage of a project to design and produce image and educational resource materials for Peer Educators.
In June, the coordination committee for the Youth Empowerment Network will meet for two days. EFA International also plans to officially register an association in Tokombere.
In addition to the Trust Africa grant S-GBV trainings, EFA Board member in-country visits and other special activities conducted this quarter, habitual activities also continued, including home visits, community education sessions, association meetings, and enabling association members to get care, treatment and CD4 tests, as needed.
EFA International would like to deeply thank all of the Global Giving donors and supporters who help make our work of enabling African youth to live positively possible. Without your help, EFA International's projects wouldn't be carried out, and we are so grateful to you for helping us to conduct them and help individuals in Cameroon!
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Director of Development