It’s 9am on a chilly Friday, and ten women are squashed into a small room at our office, rifling through bags of items that they each have perched on their laps. The bags contain bandages, antiseptic, gauze, paracetamol, soap, antibiotics, gloves and emergency drugs. These are Home Based Care Kits, and the women are volunteer carers, who walk each day on foot to care for 30 critically ill beneficiaries in the local area of Gulele.
Gulele is an area with endemic poverty and very high rates of HIV/AIDS. It is a community sprawled in the foothills of Addis Ababa, and most of our beneficiaries houses are located down narrow muddy lanes, paved with large chunks of uneven concrete. The rains, which last from June – September, make the home visits very cold and difficult.
But this doesn’t deter our team of determined carers. Two caregivers undertake home visits every weekday, and all ten meet on Fridays and head into the community together. It is physically demanding work, and very emotionally challenging. Most patients are terminally ill bedridden patients – most are HIV positive and many also suffer from cervical cancer and tuberculosis. The carers assist with changing sheets, washing and dressing bedsores, providing basic medicine and sanitary items, changing clothes, providing social support including providing awareness of illnesses to de-stigmatise in the community, teaching family members how to care properly for their loved ones, and providing post mortem care.
The objective of the program is two fold: to assist terminally ill patients to remain dignified and comfortable, and to rehabilitate and support patients who are able to make a full recovery, to once again become healthy and self-sufficient. Other services include reimbursement of medical costs and transportation to health centres.
The program is headed by Sister Abeba, a nurse with seven years experience. She spends multiple hours a week in the homes of patients and knows each of their individual stories.
“This program gives hope and love to the most needy people. Hope goes a long way in making people believe they can recover,” she says. “We teach ‘positive living mentality’ to patients, their families and the communities, that it is possible to live a normal life with HIV/AIDS, and that they can be accepted as normal members of the community.”
Each of the ten volunteer caregivers are previous beneficiaries from our program, whom have now made a full recovery and, having experienced the lifeline of the services the program provides, want to give back to the community through caring for people in similar situations to theirs.