On this World AIDS Day, I think of my all the people I know and knew with HIV/AIDS when I worked in Itipini, a shantytown community in South Africa.
In particular, I remember my friend, Pakama, whom I spoke about at a World AIDS Day service last year.
My friend Pakama lives in a place called Itipini, a shantytown community built on the landfill of small city in South Africa, the country with more HIV-positive people than any other in the world. I worked in a clinic in Itipini and when Pakama first came there three years ago, she was weak, gaunt, and emaciated. Her collar bones poked through her shirt. She had AIDS and tuberculosis.
I helped her navigate the complex health system, looking for the right combination of drugs to treat her diseases. I knew anti-retroviral therapy for AIDS was incredibly effective but I wasn’t sure Pakama was healthy enough to make it through the system in time. She lost the energy to walk and I had to lift her in and out of the car and carry her to appointments. She lay in bed in her shack the rest of the day. Each morning, as I drove to Itipini, I mentally prepared myself to hear the news that she had died the night before. In those weeks of traveling through the health care system with Pakama, her brother and aunt, both of whom were HIV-positive, died of the disease. I didn’t have much hope Pakama would be different.
And I hope that in his second term, President Obama will reverse his first-term policies and make a serious commitment to the cause of HIV/AIDS.