Milk and Medicine in Zambia
So, I have a confession.
When I first arrived in Zambia, I met a guy who I just couldn’t get off my mind. I don’t know if it was his sly grin or his mysterious eyes. He stole my heart at first glance, and I even dreamt about him that night.
Like any other love struck somebody, I came up with a scheme to see him again; it was under the auspice of bringing him a gift. Presents are the way to a guy’s heart, right? Well, it worked; I got to see him again. But he didn’t see me. He was tucked nicely in his crib, sleeping on his stomach and breathing rhythmically as he dreamed what I hoped were sweet dreams—because it wasn’t too long ago that he was living a nightmare.
Lonnie is a 7-month-old, HIV-positive baby. The beginning of life has not been easy--he knows little about a mother’s comforting touch to soothe his cries or a father’s deep voice to reassure him when he is scared. He doesn’t know that his mother could not properly care for him and had to leave him with others who could. Lonnie lives at House of Moses, a Zambian rescue home for abandoned and orphaned children located in the capital city of Lusaka.
I gently placed the gift on the edge of Lonnie’s crib. When he awakens he will be greeted by Winnie the Pooh and friends, smiling at him from the vibrant reds, yellows, and greens of his new blanket. The handmade blanket was donated to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) by the Ladies Philoptochos Society of Saint George Orthodox Church in Bethesda, Md., to be a source of warmth and comfort for babies like Lonnie.
Lonnie’s mother, Lucy, a sex worker, struggles with mental illness and depression and was hospitalized shortly after his birth. Suffering from severe malnutrition, Lonnie was brought to House of Moses by an aunt. After six weeks there, his health improved dramatically as he began to gain weight and became much more alert and active.
It’s still too early for health care workers to determine if Lonnie has any long-term developmental delays or stunted growth due to the malnutrition he suffered during Lucy’s pregnancy and after his birth. Fortunately, through House of Moses’ “Milk and Medicine Program,” Lonnie is also able to get the lifesaving HIV medication he needs to continue to grow healthy and strong.
Lucy was recently discharged from the hospital and has visited Lonnie several times. She no longer works in Lusaka’s bars and nightclubs as a sex worker—as she is committed to turning her life around. If Lucy maintains her mental health and finds steady work, hopefully she will take Lonnie and his new blanket home very soon.
According to UNAIDS, more than 160,000 children in Zambia are living with HIV. Since 2001, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) has provided more than 1 million women with services to prevent transmission of HIV to their children in Zambia.