World AIDS Day takes place on 1 December each year. It’s an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness. Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day. We have taken this chance to share a brief history of the disease in Tanzania and reflect on how our TFFT community cares for our HIV+ scholars.
Before 1983, medical professionals in Tanzania understood Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) as a disease occurring exclusively in America and Europe. Very little attention was focused on this disease in Tanzania. In October 1983, some doctors working in Bukoba Hospital in Kagera Region started to see patients with symptoms of prolonged diarrhea accompanied with severe loss of weight, muscle weakness, chronic fever, oropharyngeal candidiasis and genital ulcers. The first 3 patients with AIDS were reported at Ndolange Hospital in the Kagera region in November 1983.
2018 UNAIDS statistics revealed that in the United Republic of Tanzania, 1,600,000 people were living with HIV, while another 24,000 people died from an AIDS-related illness. It goes without saying that HIV/AIDS continues to rob the country of its dear people and their potential. Since 1983, several organizations have conducted large campaigns to educate communities about the prevalence of the disease in the country and hospitals and clinics, offering antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, have been established throughout the country. It is safe to say that half of the population is now aware of HIV/AIDS however, our work is not complete and efforts to create awareness must remain strong.
Considering the environment in which The Foundation For Tomorrow works, and the fact that vulnerable and poverty-stricken communities are more likely to contract HIV/AIDS, we often interact with persons with HIV/AIDS. 6 TFFT scholars are victims of HIV/AIDS from birth. Since being accepted into our program, they have been registered in clinics that support them with ARVs. TFFT’s Psychosocial and Health Program closely monitors their progress on a monthly basis. This includes making sure that our scholars take their medication in a timely manner, attend their clinic appointments, and attend seminars and workshops that engage students, teenagers and young adults who are HIV+. The seminars they attend enhance their awareness of the disease and endows them with ways to keep themselves healthy and to protect the community around them. We also assist our scholars with nutritional support and ensure that they are provided with extra fruit and vegetables by the nurses at their boarding schools. We also provide milk and multivitamins to boost their immunity.
We work closely with the guardians of these scholars to make sure that even when they are at home, they are well taken care of. We also ensure that our scholars’ HIV+ status is confidential to eliminate stigmatization. Importantly, TFFT works to boost their confidence and help them see that their status is not a hindrance to achieving their goals, dreams, and reaching their full potential.