In February, for the first time, a mobile team of DREAM began working in the dispensary of St Gabriel in Matoto, one of the most populated districts of the capital.
It is a first-level health center, equipped with a maternity where, because of the quality of the care given and the symbolic prices, a large number of women come to be followed during pregnancy and childbirth, and many others for primary care and immunization of their children.
It is a dispensary established more than 30 years ago after a request of the Archbishop of Conakry, who entrusted FIDESCO the construction and operation of the center. The staff is Guinean, but a small group of FIDESCO volunteers accompanies the work, supports some sections of the center and communicates – through treatment – the spirit of solidarity that animates this Catholic organization of international solidarity, linked in particular to the spirituality of the Emmanuel Community.
When DREAM arrived in Conakry the first concern was to create a network with the maternity wards of the city in order to ensure treatment to HIV-positive pregnant women and prevent infection in the offspring. From the beginning a bond of collaboration with the St Gabriel – which, through a small support from UNICEF, could execute the HIV rapid tests and accompany pregnant women who tested positive to DREAM – was created. In recent years more than 200 women from St Gabriel were accepted to DREAM, have been cured, and many children were born free from HIV until the difficulty of the supply of antiretroviral drugs experienced by the country made it impossible to continue to welcome and treat other women.
Neither DREAM nor St Gabriel have resigned to this situation: after long negotiations an agreement shared with the Government and UNICEF was reached and finally a few days ago a mobile team has arrived to ensure the therapy to HIV positive pregnant women, inside the dispensary itself. This is the challenge of DREAM: bringing therapy and diagnostics where it is most needed, reaching the people. It was created as an integrated center where HIV-positive women can receive prevention and treatment for AIDS in the same place in which they receive regular care during pregnancy and where many decide to have their babies.
The DREAM activists that accompany the medical team work together with the staff of the Dispensary, helping in counseling and testing and also sharing their experience: they are firsthand witnesses that AIDS is not a death sentence. Their work is precious and a basis of solidarity is established between them and the women who discover to be HIV positive.
At St Gabriel every month about 20/25 women are found to be HIV positive. Being able to offer the antiretroviral therapy and high quality diagnostics through the molecular biology laboratory of DREAM means preventing HIV infection in about 250/300 children a year. It also means demonstrating that the only way to effectively combat the disease is through the synergy between centers and structures. If the resources are scarce – and unfortunately they are in Guinea – this does not mean give in to resignation: the alliance with the St Gabriel (and in the future with others) can be as creative with limited resources, able to save a large number of women – antiretroviral treatment during pregnancy increases the immune system and prevents many of the risks of maternal mortality – and allowing to give birth to healthy children, free from HIV.