On 1st December last the DREAM project to combat AIDS opened its activities in Kenya, making this the fifth African country where it has begun its work. The Community of Sant’Egidio’s programme of prevention and treatment has to its credit since January 2002 the treatment of approximately 20,000 persons and the births of almost 2,000 healthy babies.
The incidence of AIDS among the Kenyan population is estimated at around 7% (source UNAIDS). In contrast to other African countries, there is no lack of resources in the major Kenyan cities. In rural areas, however, there is a complete absence of facilities capable of opposing the forward march of the epidemic. And it is these areas that the new DREAM project centre is targeting, basing itself as it does in St. Ursula’s Hospital in Materi, district of Tharaka.
The hospital stands in a rural area, at about 300 km from Nairobi. It belongs to the Catholic diocese of Meru, and it is run in collaboration with the hospitals of Sant’Orsola of Bologna and Ferrara, who have together formed an NGO. Calling itself Ibo, the organisation has for years been sending medicines and Italian personnel to provide regular support. The hospital is a medium-sized, modern facility: the medical and surgery departments can accommodate 40 in-patients in the adult ward and 30 in the children’s ward.
The idea of opening a DREAM centre within the hospital originated in Italy. The number of AIDS sufferers was rising and the medical staff of the St Orsola Hospitals of Bologna and Ferrara who were working in Kenya wondered how they could confront the problem. A meeting with the management of the Community of Sant’Egidio project resulted in the idea of a joint venture, which first got underway a year and a half ago.
These eighteen months have been work-intensive, but necessary: for gathering the funding; making contacts with governmental authorities; obtaining all necessary authorisations; building the laboratory and the out-patient clinic; carrying through training courses for the staff.
The speciality of this new centre is its role as a hub of reference: the point from which dispensing and the monitoring of therapy emanate to a series of rural out-posts located out on the land: 7 “health points” in remoter villages radiate, in fact, out from it. Sufferers are usually unable to make their own way to the hospital; this is not only because of the hardships of the journey, but also due to economic constraints. The centre, therefore, acts as a day hospital only for those who are able to get there directly. For others a service of specially equipped vehicles has been prepared; these call at the health points at pre-set dates to carry out health visits, take of samples for patient tests and monitor ongoing therapy. Samples taken in the villages are transported to the lab for cd4 level analysis (the level of immune defence present in a HIV sufferer) which is an essential datum for establishing the appropriate treatment for each sufferer. In this way, a thoroughgoing “house-to-house” therapy is provided, bringing treatment if not into the home, then into the more outlying and inaccessible villages.