Monday, December 7, 2009

PASTAZA November 09: what we did

In response to the alarming situation in the Pastaza region, we conducted our ¡Soy Capaz! campaign of HIV-prevention alongside Amazon Promise' regular clinics.

>>>We reached over 1000 people with our public lectures and educational HIV workshops. Our lectures and private sessions were interpreted from Spanish to Quechua and Achuar in places where such services were needed.Upon demand, we handed out 2 700 free condoms and administered HIV tests upon request. More that 200 individuals were counseled on HIV, STIs and family planning.<<<

Insufficient –or plainly nonexistent—awareness of the dangers of the HIV and other ST infections in the Achuar, Quechua and the mixed Meztizo communities lays the ground for an HIV epidemic outbreak on the river Pastaza. In no place we have visited is there a reliable source of HIV-prevention education, and no condoms are available in the region (with the exception of Andoas where a purchase is possible at high cost). We have informed the Regional Ministry of Health of the situation.

In addition, we also visited the Secondary School in Andoas where we continued our workshop we had begun the year before. Our new video produced by AP and Lazos de Vida generated a discusssion of such topics as self-respect and responsible sexual behavior. In the school, we also continued orientating the teachers and extended our collaboration on HIV-prevention exercises. The teachers received from us a concise guide for an STI-prevention workshop to be conducted in our absence.
Exilda, our indispensable boat driver and Quechua interpreter.

After Andoas, our first place to visit was the village of Warari; a place beloved by AP for its people: a very traditional Achuar family who has been inviting and friendly to us since the very first expedition in the 1990's. One of the sons, Puanch, has been traveling with us for the last two years, getting trained as a Medical and HIV Promoter. His village is in the midst of the jungle up the Tunigrama creek where trees whisper, and fireflies flicker at night. After clinic, we were offered not only masato, the fermented yucca drink the Achuar women chew up and spit into buckets, but also the beautiful Achuar masato vessels to keep. It took us the whole day to go up river and back. As we were returing, a storm overtook us on the Pastaza river. Everything suddenly turned into water, including our breath. Soaked and freezing, we finally moored back in Andoas. It was worth every penny.

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Patient Stories

Juan: A Patient’s Story

During an Amazon Promise clinic in the village of Jerusalen, we met a desperate, emaciated man who was holding the hand of a four-year-old boy with cutely unkempt hair. Having been sick for some time, Juan had come to the village from Iquitos in the hopes of finding some healing in traditional jungle medicine. He was a very humble man who never looked into anyone’s eyes. His son was the shyest of kids. There was tenderness between them. The AP clinic doctors could not find the source of Juan’s fatigue, but suspected that he was in the end stages of HIV/AIDS infection. We offered to help him get back to Iquitos for HIV testing.

In Iquitos, Juan tested HIV positive and broke down. We counseled him about the free antiretroviral treatment he could receive from one of the hospitals. Still, he was convinced that an HIV diagnosis meant certain death. Juan then revealed he had a wife and another child. In fact, he was not afraid to die, but he was petrified that they too might be infected. At the San Juan Health Center in Iquitos, Juan’s wife and their children tested negative, while Juan’s tests confirmed his HIV infection. Again Juan cried, but this time with relief. Nevertheless, his joy was short-lived: he now perceived himself a burden to his family, and craved death. At that point, he could hardly walk. Together with his wife, we counseled him and finally convinced him to start treatment. His wife was very strong, forgiving and caring. They decided to make it together.

Juan entered the free antiretroviral treatment program at the Hospital Regional. Because he was too ill to work, his wife took on an extra shift at her job to make ends meet.

A year later, while we were visiting the same village, an elderly woman spoke without stopping about how fat her son Juan was getting. Then one day Juan rang the bell at the Amazon Promise house in Iquitos. He walked in with muscled arms and a protruding belly, holding his youngest child in his arms and the boy with unkempt hair by the hand. Juan has a full-time job now. He looks people straight in the eye, and talks with great concern about the growing number of HIV patients he sees in the hospital where he receives his treatment. At the moment, he is training to become a volunteer HIV-prevention counselor. Welcome back to the world, Juan.

(The patient’s name has been changed for the sake of confidentiality)


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