The South African government introduced its HIV treatment programme in 2004, however, few healthcare professionals in the country had any experience in the use of anti-retroviral (ART) drug regimes, making delivery of the programme an enormous challenge for the health service.
HIV is a chronic condition, for children in the UK, who live healthy lives. The same could not be said in South Africa, where it was a death sentence for tens of thousands, who died of AIDS. Paediatric HIV specialists in the UK, who have been treating children with HIV for decades, developing invaluable practical skills and common sense tips to successfully treat children long-term, felt sharing their expertise with their South African colleagues was vital – the question was how? And so, CHIVA Africa was born.
During 2004, when the first CHIVA Africa mentoring teams arrived in South Africa, they found a country traumatised by death. Colleagues were exhausted and numb from watching patients, friends, family and communities die from a disease they were powerless to treat. They found it difficult to believe that people could live with HIV, rather than die from it.
They were so overwhelmed with work, that establishing clinics to treat patients seemed futile. Treating children felt impossible. And so our UK Volunteers and staff set to work to help change this – working in the worst affected areas of South Africa, provide mentoring, training and support for those caring for the country’s most vulnerable – the children.
Now most of South Africa’s HIV positive population are on treatment living normal healthy lives and the children are growing up. We are so proud and privileged to have been part of this transformation.
However, there are many challenges remaining: adolescents are an enormous concern – they are the group with the greatest number of newly acquired infections. We have developed an adolescent mentoring programme, to address the issues facing them and those caring for them: they deserve the best and most compassionate care we can offer.
CHIVA Africa has achieved a great deal over the years, reaching staff in hospitals and clinics throughout KZN, the Eastern Cape and Northwest Province: more than 20 000 healthcare personnel looking after over 100 000 children, so far. We have taught, mentored and supported; we have run workshops and seminars, master classes and ward rounds empowering our colleagues with the practical skills and experience we have garnered over years of clinical studies, service provision and trial and error.
However there is much still to do, and as we set out to expand our programme, with our growing cadre of South African experts joining their UK colleagues to continue our work through South Africa and beyond, I invite you to join us on this extraordinary journey.