Dot here, checking in from Guayaquil Ecuador. It has been a busy, exciting, informative, at times exhausting, and overall amazing three weeks so far in Ecuador! My group and I spent the first week doing our rotation at Tecnológico Bolivariano shadowing a psychologist and giving “charlas” or talks on values and conflict mediation to students and teachers. Last week I was at Fundación VIDHA, an HIV clinic that works mainly with prevention and early detection of HIV/AIDS transmission, and this week I am building on this experience by working with VIDHA’s program at the maternity hospital here in Guayaquil.
It has been amazing to see the various branches of prevention and intervention that this one agency has implemented and to witness and learn about the scope of their reach and effectiveness of their programs. They have one program to prevent the vertical transmission of HIV from mother to baby during pregnancy, birth, and the first 18 months of the baby’s life and they have had a 100% success rate in preventing vertical transmission of HIV for babies born in their program.
My group is currently working within this program at Hospital Maternidad Sotomayor, the largest maternity hospital in South America with 20% of Ecuadorian births occurring in this hospital. This means 80-100 babies being born per day! VIDHA’s program at the hospital is called “Programa de Prevención de Transmisión Vertical.” During our rotation at Hospital Maternidad Sotomayor we have been working with Chelsea, a Peace Corp volunteer, and Claudia, a psychologist.
Last week we spent the week at Fundación VIDHA and learned an immense amount about HIV and AIDS, its prevalence in Ecuador, and VIDHA’s prevention and intervention efforts. This program is particularly important here in Guayaquil, as out of the 24 provinces in Ecuador Guayas is the province with the largest number of cases, and within Guayas Guayaquil is the city with the most cases.
Fundación VIDHA works a lot with primary prevention and early detection. They work with local media to prevent transmission of HIV/AIDS through TV and radio spots and newspaper ads. They have also handed out over 300,000 flyers with information about HIV/AIDS and where one can get tested to people at the metrovía. These efforts to persuade people to get tested are extremely important, as 1 in 3 people living with HIV does not know they have it. VIDHA also run weekly groups called “¿Cuantos Sabes de VIH y SIDA?” which train high school students who volunteer to provide workshops and to educate other high school students on the prevention and detection of HIV and AIDS. We had the opportunity to sit in on and participate in two ¿Cuantos Sabes? groups run by two different VIDHA employees, Daniel and Fernando. It was really wonderful to watch how they provide the information in an interesting and dynamic way and the ways in which they build group cohesion and build the student’s confidence in their public speaking abilities.
In addition to their prevention efforts, VIDHA also provides various interventions for people living with HIV and AIDS including educational workshops about HIV/ AIDS as well as workshops on building the mother-child relationship and early stimulation, newborn care, nutrition, treatment adherence, caesarean preparation, and yoga and dance workshops. And the most amazing part about everything they do- it is all FREE! VIDHA provides free HIV tests, free pre and post-test counseling, and free groups and workshops. In addition, here in Ecuador the government pays for the treatment of people who have been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS so people of all socioeconomic statuses can receive free doctors appointments, medications, and HIV positive mothers can receive free formula for their newborns to prevent the transmission of the virus through breast milk.
To give you a sense of the scope of their reach, VIDHA has provided HIV tests for almost 300,000 pregnant women, have detected over 1,000 cases of HIV positive pregnant women, and have had 100% effectiveness in preventing vertical transmission of HIV from mother to child for children born in their program. They have provided thousands of pre and post-test counseling sessions and in 2012 they established a program called “Programa de Revelación Diagnostico a Niños que Viven con VIH.” This program helps children living with HIV better understand their diagnosis and provides support and guidance to their caretakers. VIDHA’s mission, outreach programs, and success demonstrate the importance of primary prevention and early intervention. It has been wonderful to see how this program runs, hear how it was established, and see the impact it is having both at the clinic and at the hospital. I am looking forward to continuing to learn more at the hospital this week and to bring what I learned back to my work in the United States.