Sustainable + Smart Solutions to HIV in Tanzania: Smart Children, Smart Partners, Smart Systems

By Chip Lyons | July 29, 2014

EGPAF President and CEO Chip Lyons with Constantine, 14; Eva, 15; and Happiness, 14, at the Kambarage Health Center in Shinyanga.

In Tanzania, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) works closely with partners, like EGPAF affiliate AGPAHI, to ensure that families, health care workers, and communities have the tools and resources to plan, implement, and sustain their HIV programs so that all families are reached with services. This blog is part of a series on a recent country visit by Chip Lyons, EGPAF president and CEO. 

While many Americans celebrated Independence Day with hotdogs and fireworks, I spent the first weekend of July traversing northern Tanzania’s savannah and seeing, firsthand, the results of EGPAF’s work to end AIDS in children. My visit took me to several EGPAF-supported project sites and clinics that are clearly making a lasting difference for mothers, families, and children and making undeniable progress towards an AIDS-free generation in Tanzania.  I came to see fighting AIDS as a form of fighting for independence, of freeing people from the viciously controlling condition of AIDS.

I met Constantine, 14; Eva, 15; and Happiness, 14, at the Kambarage Health Center in Shinyanga, a small city 100 miles south of Lake Victoria, hard hit by Tanzania’s HIV epidemic (HIV prevalence=7.4%*). Today, just as when EGPAF was founded, children are often the forgotten face of HIV/AIDS. Nearly 10% of Kambarage’s patients are under 15 years old. It’s imperative we make and keep children a practical priority—pressing actions that push well beyond the rhetoric of caring about children.  We can and must ensure all kids have access to high-quality, age-appropriate treatment, care, and support that will allow our youth living with HIV to not just live, but thrive.

We can’t keep children healthy if we don’t keep families healthy. Constantine, Eva, and Happiness all come to the clinic with a parent to pick up the family’s antiretroviral (ARVs) medication and have their health checked. “Drugs give me energy and life,” said Constantine, “I can’t stop them!” EGPAF works to give communities tools and resources implement, and sustain their HIV programs so that all families are treated and supported.

When young people living with HIV have the support, of their family and friends, they stand a much better chance of sticking with their treatment and living positively for many more healthy years. They also are less likely to avoid transmitting HIV to their partners and their unborn children, later in life.

The three friends enthusiastically told me how much they enjoyed their recent time spent at an EGPAF-supported Ariel Camp. Ariel Camps—named in memory of Elizabeth Glaser’s late daughter—provide psychological and social support to children and adolescents living with HIV. Constantine, Eva, and Happiness joined 25 other kids for a week of friendship, songs, healthy food, and education. With the iconic Mt. Kilimanjaro as their backdrop, the campers discussed youth issues, biological changes during teen years, and their futures. “I was happy to see Kilimanjaro and the waterfalls … and to sing with other children,” said Happiness.

Travel to the field is invaluable, and inspiring. These site visits powerfully reinforce my confidence that — no matter a country’s size, HIV disease burden, or resources — EGPAF can and will get life-saving HIV services to the children and their families’ with the greatest need.

The results that clinics like Kambarage are achieving -- often in some of the most remote, resource-constrained regions of Tanzania -- are cause for celebration. This is not at all a surprise. I’ve long been impressed by the dedication and innovation of the health care workers I’ve met at the sites with similar community resources. 

Through the more than 7,000 EGPAF-supported sites in 14 countries are finding smart, sustainable solutions to the HIV epidemic. A world that can envision a day when no child has AIDS is cause for celebration. It is also a reason to recommit to the work required to get it done. EGPAF will do whatever it takes, until that day arrives.

Learn more about EGPAF’s work to eliminate pediatric AIDS in Tanzania.

* Tanzania HIV and Malaria Indicator Survey 2012