At the Hospital of the “Community of Sant’Egidio of Bissau”, the month of July was dedicated to professional formation for personnel and to health education for infected people. Doctors and nurses participated in refresher courses on Tuberculosis and about nutritional problems, especially among HIV-positive people. Guinean foodstuffs and local recipes were described and discussed to assess their nutritional capacities and to understand how members of different ethnic groups nourish themselves.
Above all, this time provided an opportunity for intense education about basic health information, for infected people on treatment within the DREAM programme who are still in hospital, for those who are living at home, as well as for women belonging to the association Mulheres para DREAM.
Much of this training was carried out on an itinerant basis: the trainers went with campaigners to visit sick people who live deep in the interior of the country – in villages and cities situated three hours by car away from Bissau.
This is because 30% of sick people receiving treatment on the DREAM programme live outside the capital. In fact, the Community took a decision not to exclude anyone from treatment, and to take into the DREAM programme even those people living in the interior. Other centres distributing antiretroviral therapy often refuse to accept such patients.
In each village (tabanka in the Creole of Guinea Bissau) and in every home, the group received a festive welcome: it is not often that white people, or “city people” go in friendship to seek out others who live far away.
Each visit was an opportunity to renew and improve knowledge about the use of water filters, mosquito nets, and about personal hygiene and nutrition.
Three meetings of the association Mulheres para DREAM were held. In Guinea Bissau, there are no women’s associations and 80% of women have never gone to school: Mulheres para DREAM has given them a space where they can speak openly about the problems that the disease causes in their life and in that of their family. It was an important opportunity to understand and to learn new things and to embark on new friendships. The participation of more than 50 women in meetings testified to the prevalent sense of freedom and of joy, which were clearly expressed by many women. “I used to think that I would never be able to hug and kiss my grandchildren because I’m sick, but it’s been a great joy for me to find out that I can hug them anyway, and even make them better,” said Teresa. The younger women welcomed with great relief the discovery that they can have children, especially children who are born healthy. The opposite message is spread by the radio and by ordinary people: those who are sick cannot have children anymore. According to the testimony shared by many women and mothers, the “Community of Sant’Egidio” hospital has become famous in Bissau for being a place where AIDS and Tuberculosis are treated, and where sick people are welcomed in a family atmosphere.