Nutrition and Peer Support Program
Improving the nutritional status of our patients is an essential aspect of HIV care.
GAIA provides weekly meals to an average of 30 HIV+ patients and their families. Cooking together and sharing a meal with the clinic staff reduces stigma and fosters emotional support. After spending years together receiving care at the GAIA clinic, our patients have formed an association to promote understanding of HIV/AIDS in Mali and fight stigma.
Rain or shine, the HIV+ women at the Hope Clinic cook a meal twice a week for all the HIV patients, their children and clinic staff. Stigma is a major concern. These women have overcome so much, living in a society that is still learning to treat HIV+ people with dignity. As Socrates, our peer educator explains:
Before, when someone tested positive, they were automatically abandoned by their family, fired from their jobs, and rejected by the community because of their positive status. I can tell you that today, things are a tiny bit better, but stigma is not eliminated. The stress of that will kill a person. It's not the disease that will kill them.
The women at our clinic had have access to empathetic caregivers and as much psychosocial support as we can provide. It is clear from their testimonies that they have broken through many boundaries imposed by stigma, even if they lost husbands to HIV/AIDS.
Our HIV+ patients are strong and self-reliant, and they have goals for their own lives and big dreams for their children, yet their every day lives are full of the immediate challenges of trying to care for their families with the little that they have. It’s clear from the way that they laugh and share stories together while they cook and catch up with their friends that the twice-weekly gathering is a time to relax among their peers while their kids play together.
In celebration of World AIDS Day 2015, the Malian Minister of Health chose our clinic to visit. She applauded the community and staff for their hard work over the years and shared a meal that the HIV+ community members had prepared. Her gesture carried a strong symbolic message of encouragement for our patients.