Monday, October 10, 2005

KEEP A CHILD ALIVE : A World Of Generosity And Compassion

It is said that the seed of Keep A Child Alive was sewn in Mombasa, Kenya in 2002. In that year, the AIDS Research and Family Care Clinic (ARFCC) set up a pilot program to offer free antiretroviral therapy to a number of needy children through an effort spearheaded by Leigh Blake. Leigh Blake had initiated and funded this program with royalties from one of her previous fundraisers. One day a mother came into the clinic with her 3-year-old son. The child could receive care for AIDS at the clinic but the clinic could not supply the anti-retroviral drugs needed.

At that time the anti-retroviral drugs generally cost in the range of $11,000 a year. Hardly any Africans could afford such an expensive drug. The mother of the 3-year-old boy insisted that her son be given the same chance at life as any child in a western nation. At that point, Leigh Blake made a commitment to pay for the drugs the child needed out of her own pocket. In that year, the drugs cost about $1200 a year through New York University Hospital's AIDS Research Dept. This department was overseeing care at the ARFCC through Dr Shaffiq Essajee who eventually became Keep A Child Alive 's Treatment Grant Director.

The Keep A Child Alive web site says that as "Leigh began to tell people about the mother in Mombassa with the 3-year-old, many of her friends offered to do the same for children at the clinic. And at the same time Dr Essajee was telling people about this story as well, and his friends were offering to do the same." As many generous people stepped up to open their hearts and their wallets Keep A Child Alive was born.

Three years later the organization has grown to where it is operating in five countries saving children and their families. They have built clinics, provided medical staff to serve the communities where they operate and also train medical personnel. The services have expanded to such an extent that they range from "nutritional support to diagnostic testing to community outreach workers." Their clinics are located in Mombassa, Durban, Kigali, Soweto and the Zone B sector of Namuwongo, Uganda. And while all of these clinics are doing great work, I the length restrictions on this article dictate that I only discuss one of these clinics at this time - and that clinic is Mombassa.

Keep A Child Alive's persistent message is that while in "the U.S. and other wealthy countries, anti-retroviral medicines (ARVs) have transformed AIDS from a virtual death sentence to a chronic, manageable disease, over 95% of all people with HIV/AIDS live in impoverished countries and can't afford these medicines." Only about 400,000 if the 6 million people with HIV/AIDS in poor countries are getting the urgently needed treatment. These figures show that only 7% of people in need in poor countries are getting the treatment. But in Africa, only 2% of the people are receiving it. And Keep A Child Alive says that the number of children receiving treatment in Africa is even lower than 2%.

Keep A Child Alive also makes it a point to educate people to the fact that most children with AIDS eventually become orphans. It is easy to see that one of the best things that can be done for these children is to keep their parents alive.

The ARFCC in Mombassa provides a comprehensive range of free medical and psychosocial services to families living with HIV within an environment that is capable of supporting clinical HIV research. The has a dedicated laboratory that offers HIV tests, basic hematology and chemistry tests, CD4 counts, and specialized HIV PCR testing to aid in the early diagnosis of HIV infected infants. Through a unique partnership with the New York University Medical Center, diagnostic testing services are provided.

Through the Keep A Child Alive program, at the end of each month, the ARFCC receives a shipment of generic anti-retrovirals directly from the main Kenyan distributor. The ARFCC maintains close contact with the distributor and all shipments are tailored to the precise needs of the patients receiving treatment. This ensures that there is minimal wastage of medications while at the same time securing a consistent and uninterrupted supply.

Patients come to the clinic at the start of each month in order to receive the next month's medications. The clinic requests those patients or their caregiver return with their old bottles and sign for the medications so that the clinic may assess compliance.

Every antiretroviral visit is recorded in and the resulting data is collected into an electronic medical record that can be accessed by program staff at New York University. Also, "the physicians at the ARFCC select the drug regimen for each patient based on the overall condition of the patient, the presence of other illnesses such as anemia and tuberculosis, the ease of administration and the age of the child." The patients are also counseled at each visit. The Keep A Child Alive web site says that: "To date all the patients in the program have kept all of their appointments and most have already shown excellent responses to the antiretroviral treatments."

While the staff and volunteers of Keep A Child Alive and the AIDS Research and Family Care Clinic are the Real Heroes, Keep A Child Alive is also supported by a number of celebrity artist. The list of these generous entertainers include:

50 Cent
Ashlee Simpson
Avril Lavigne
Dave Matthews
Good Charlotte
Alicia Keys
Rod Stewart
Simple Plan
Toby Keith

I hope to revisit Keep A Child Alive and give you an update on its progress and talk about the great things that the other clinics are doing; but I have to wrap up for now. You may want to continue to read about this great organization and its companion clinics without having for me to post another blog article. And if you do, go to the web site for Keep A Child Alive

1 comment:

Ronnie said...

It is amazing and pretty inspiring that the noble gestures of Leigh Blake and Dr. Shaffiq Essajee 3 or so years ago have given birth to a grand global awareness and participation in so far as the offering of Anti-Retroviral therapy is concerned.What's equally amazing is that though the awareness has grown in leaps and bounds on a global scale, with people like Oscar Blayton and celebrities like Oprah getting involved, at the Local level right here in Kenya our awareness and involvement is hardly noticeable.Needn't we who are affected directly get involved? I hope to change this as we near the end of year. What can we do? How can we get involved? What sort of sensitisation and direct help can we effect and offer? As an Event Organiser I'm hoping to put my creativity to task in terms of mobilising a sensitisation campaign. I'd be particularly interested in the locational details of the ARFCC and in anyone who'd be willing to support our projected December initiative. I can be reached on +254-722 714 286 or at