Aid for AIDS
PANAMA. On the first floor hallway of the Children’s Hospital`s newest wing, sits a makeshift room which serves as a working station fo...
PANAMA. On the first floor hallway of the Children’s Hospital`s newest wing, sits a makeshift room which serves as a working station for Aid for AIDS.
Aid for AIDS International is a non-profit organization committed to improving the quality of life of people living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The Panama chapter of Aid for AIDS is currently headed by Trina Maria Aguais Zambrano, who along with volunteers has made the most of the space given to her with the walls decorated by children participating in Aid for AIDS programs.
The room holds a tiny, colorful desk, 2 computer desks in a corner, books and materials used for workshops.
Aid for AIDS works with children recommended by the Children Hospital’s HIV clinic.
Since April, they have organized activities every Tuesday and Thursday to help children come to terms with their diagnosis.
Kerime Kose and Roalmar Alviariz, two of the volunteer psychologists, said they help children build their self awareness and their self-esteem.
Around 22 -25 children from the HIV clinic and Hogar San Jose de Malambo gather on the first floor’s main hallway—which on afternoons is emptied—for the workshops.
On Tuesdays, volunteer psychologists focus on a program named “Aprendo a Amarme y Cuidarme,” or “Learning to love and take care of myself”.
They divide the children by age group, 8 to 13, 11-13.
Both groups are taught about themselves to create a framework with which to help them understand how to psychologically manage their diagnosis.
They dispel the stigmas attached to HIV by teaching them it is not a disease but a virus that will demand certain lifestyle arrangements such as taking medicine every 12 hours and learning how the virus is transmitted in order to prevent its spread.
Additionally, they work with the children to fight back their fear of the future.
Together, they work to get rid of the children’s notion that they are going to die by creating life plans and goals, which the children creatively delineate on big boards kept guarded in the small office. Workshops have also been started at the Caja de Seguro Social (CSS).
According to the psychologists, one of the biggest problems they encounter is children who deny their diagnosis and ignore the importance of learning to live with the virus.
They also argue that children find it easier to come to terms with HIV and exhibit a better adherence to their medicine when they count with a strong and attentive adult presence in their lives to take care of them and make sure they take their medicine.
On Thursdays they hold recreational activities.
On October, a Christmas tree is erected carrying red ribbons with the message “no discrimination” and they give out flyers around the Children’s Hospital with information about HIV and AIDS, in preparation for December 1, World AIDS Day.
On December 12, comes the Christmas Party with all the appropriate trimmings.
During Children’s Day celebrations last July, the team spent four days in a booth at Omar Park dispelling misconceptions about HIV and AIDS and building a culture of protection among children and their supervisors through speeches and recreational activities.
Aid for AIDS came to Panama in 2006, invited by the First Lady, Vivian Fernandez de Torrijos, who offered them a house in Clayton to serve as headquarters. One of their focus points is spreading proper knowledge about HIV through a “How much do you know about HIV and AIDS?” campaign that visits schools to provide correct information and promote prevention from an early age.
The Children Hospital’s HIV clinic, which recommends patients to the Aid for AIDS team, was opened in 1988, with around 150 children diagnosed with HIV.
Their aim was to give out medicines and make sure the patients took them.
Today, their work has become more complicated.
As the children grow older, they find the need to teach them more about preventing the spread of the virus and they have started taking in patients up to 18 years of age. The previous cut-off age was 15.
As the responsibilities and scope of the clinic expands, they face space and supporting staff constraints.
Within the span of a 20 minute interview, at least three different staff members entered the room. Imagine the difficulties of imparting news and information about HIV to a child with these constant distractions.
The clinic would also benefit significantly from an in-house psychologist, instead of relying on the one psychologist in charge of an entire hospital wing. They also would benefit from the addition of a social worker, and a nutritionist, as treatment is most effective with an adequate meal.
Aid for AIDS helps the clinic through its volunteer psychologists, but they too struggle to cope with an increasing number of children diagnosed with HIV.