HIV in West Africa

DSC_0675 copy, originally uploaded by Photo2217.

I’m fortunate enough to temporarily be in Lome which has about 28 miles of sandy beach. In order to go to the market, restaurants, pharmacies’, or any other spot in Lome we must first exit the port alongside Plage (Beach) Road. Along Plage Road there are bulletin boards randomly placed which are advertisements regarding HIV. Some are notices about staying abstinent (the alternate choice), others are about getting tested (if you really love your soul mate), others are safe sexual practice options that are quite graphic and illustrative (they would never be permitted to display along US HWY’s). However, I don’t think I have ever seen posters displayed in a café until the other day. Although this wasn’t in a typical café, it was a café centrally located between several national ministries of health buildings. It’s the first poster I have seen in Lome that could illustrate HIV and the various ways one could contract this disease so straightforward.

But HIV has to be approached straightforwardly. Actually, HIV has to be approached straightforwardly, from behind, from the side, from underneath, from the top, from any direction as long as it is approached.

Many groups in Lome are trying to bring awareness to HIV. It is evident everywhere, from road side billboards, national commercials on TV, and even café posters. There are locations through out the city where one can go and get tested for 300CFA ($0.60US) and ARV’s can be made available at no cost too.

But people are still getting HIV. There are still people that have never been tested, and do not even know that they may have HIV.

We are already seeing it on the ship during the medical screening/admissions process. Some of the potential patients that arrive on dockside are here to have tumors, growths, cataracts, or bone issues to be evaluated for surgery or outpatient care. While they receive a physical they also do the typical blood work exams too, which includes testing for HIV. There are several patients throughout the week that soon are counseled and advised of the blood test results that have retuned positive for the disease.

I have met many locals here in Lome, and while they are waiting for their physicals, I have gotten to know them. You get to know the locals pretty quickly when you spend time taking their portraits. They go from becoming faces, to strangers, to photography subject matters, to stories, to giggling alongside them, to being vulnerable before them just to make them giggle too, to being vested by their soulful confessions, to sympathizing, to empathizing, to interceding with groans of prayer. It’s a quick process. Folks from Africa will either like you or dislike you quickly and will not hesitate in demonstrating their opinion. I’m blessed to report that many have expressed a positive reaction to me in Lome.

I could go on further and state statistics, averages, and percentages of how well certain local/global programs or organizations have done to reduce HIV in their particular focused fight for HIV prevention/awareness (there are thousands out there). All the efforts are wonderful, but the numbers and statistics don’t mean a whole bunch when there is still someone I have grown to know, pray with, hope with, and hug. It just takes one positive result. It just takes one to get so choked up that I can’t speak for days. Just one. It doesn’t have to be millions, thousands, or hundreds. Just one.


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