Going out of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, we leave behind the confusion and smog that are characteristic of big African cities and head for the north-east, towards the completely different landscape of the country’s central region. The destination of our journey is the village of Materi situated in Tharaka district. At the beginning of the trip, we find ourselves in the heart of luxurious nature: fruit tree plantations line the street, alternating with others covered by low bushes of tea or coffee that constitute one of Kenya’s sources of wealth. Near the city of Chuka, however, the asphalt road is abruptly transformed into a dusty track (it is never easy to cross and gets worse in the rainy reason) that we travel at a slowed-down pace to reach the destination of our trip.
Tharaka could well be the poorest district in Kenya. Due to its geographical characteristics (it is situated in the middle of a depression), it is often subject to long drought with consequences that could only be imagined for peoples living there. People are very poor. Materi, the village we have just reached, appears to us like typical rural African world, without drinking water or electricity, without any connections if not those made available by makeshift means of transport. People live most of all from subsistence agriculture and sheep farming or rather from modest trading ventures.
It was in this scenario that the “Emiliano De Marco” association from Ferrara intervened in 2001. The association constructed a big hospital and got it working, with the aim of responding to the health needs of the people of the entire region. It was in the same context and to answer to the same need that in 2004, in collaboration with the Community of Sant’Egidio, the idea emerged of offering the possibility to treat HIV infection in the hospital.
And thus it was that in December 2005, the DREAM centre of Materi was inaugurated. The centre offers all patients in the area free medical treatment, antiretroviral drugs and advanced diagnostics specifically for people with AIDS. The maternity department of the hospital, working in close contact with the DREAM centre, allows effective monitoring of pregnant women to bring about a decline in the vertical mother-child transmission rate of HIV infection. Nutritional supplementation completes the aid package and it is proving to be decisive in a region where malnutrition and frequent drought unfortunately claim too many victims.
Materi was chosen due to its geographic location: it is in the heart of the region, situated in such a way that it can easily be reached from neighbouring villages that are generally isolated and excluded from health services. People must undertake long journeys to arrive. In the best possible scenario they would use the “matatu”, battered chock-a-block minivans; but more often patients can be seen turning up on bicycles or on foot after many hours of walking.
In any case, notwithstanding the difficulties, word is getting round about this health centre where people can receive free treatment, and more and more people are being prompted to turn to DREAM to win their battle against AIDS. It is especially women that come to us, often accompanied by their little children. To date, less than a year after the opening of the centre, just over 500 people have been treated and initial results are already in evidence. Even in re