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Great News About Africa and AIDS

by Jerri Savuto

June 03, 2004

Jerri Savuto is a missionary with the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, along with her husband Bill, and served in Maua Methodist Hospital, Maua, Kenya from 1998-2003 where she was a tutor in the hospital RN program. Her responsibilities included teaching nursing students in the areas of anatomy, physiology, nutrition, pharmacology, medical and surgical nursing, pediatrics, and community health.

Last year we returned to the USA, disappointed with the news we hear about Africa. It sounds so negative and hopeless and yet we know that GREAT things too are happening there in the name of Jesus Christ.

In 2002 Maua Methodist Hospital (MMH) decided to start a Community based Palliative Care program to help alleviate the enormous AIDS problem in the community and surrounding area. (Palliative care is given to people who are dying from a disease with no known cure.) The hospital hoped to change the attitude towards persons with AIDS from one of hate to one of love, and to teach people how to care for their dying relatives in the home.

MMH also wanted to start one woman on anti-retrovirals. Their vision was to keep women alive and healthy enough to raise their own children.

Leaders of the Methodist Church in Machungulu, a village of 17,000 people, came to ask MMH to help. Their young men were dying; their young women were dying or becoming widows; and their young children were dying or becoming orphans. MMH was delighted to help.

MMH started by training the top leadership of the church to accept, support and care for persons with AIDS. The church leaders were excited and embraced the idea immediately, creating a place for a palliative care clinic to be held in the church. In a few months, people with AIDS and other illnesses came to the clinic and to their church. Next MMH began training people to care for dying family members at home; not easy because there is often no running water, no electricity, no furniture, no bed. They expected few participants but so many came they had to hold several training sessions. Then they watched as the trainees walked as far as 50 miles to villages to share about the clinic and the hope and support available at Machungulu Methodist Church.

Finally, they were ready to treat one woman with anti-retrovirals. The committee picked Margaret. She was the 2nd of 4 wives. Her husband, wife 1, 3 and 4 had died, leaving her with 11 children to care for, 3 of which were her own. When the hospital visited Margaret she was so ill she could not move out of bed, she had shingles on her face and they thought she would lose her right eye. She seemed too ill to be a good candidate for the medication. However, when they went to the committee and asked them to choose someone else the committee said, "NO!" God had chosen Margaret, they had chosen Margaret, and Margaret would get the anti-retrovirals.

Two months later I visited Margaret. She was in her shamba planting seeds and preparing the ground. Though I have worked with many AIDS patients, I had never seen one who experienced no side effects and could recover with such speed. But that was only the beginning of the miracles surrounding Margaret.

The first wife had 3 grown sons. They had watched Margaret and assumed she would die just like their father, mother and the other wives, but suddenly Margaret got well and was farming. In this area a woman cannot own property, that is an absolute, so when the 3 sons arrived on the property one day and asked Margaret who owned the land she said, "They did." They said, "Yes, they did and they wanted Margaret and the 11 orphans off the land in 3 days."

Margaret was devastated. She went to the top committee at Machungulu, led by a man named Musa, a super-chief. Musa called a meeting for Margaret's family and clan, including all four wives' family members and a representative from every household in Machungulu. It was agreed by all that Musa's decision would be final.

Musa stated, "The 3 sons of the first wife could walk on the property and pick miraa from the 12 miraa trees every day and then walk off the property without talking to anyone BECAUSE the land BELONGED to Margaret". Margaret owned land; the first woman to own land was the 2nd wife of a dead man with full-blown AIDS. (That was the most amazing miracle I have seen.)

But that wasn't all God had planned for Margaret. She spoke at church right before Christmas; so many people attended, they had to meet outside in a field. Margaret stood up, introduced herself and said she had AIDS. (No one had ever said that aloud so it was truly amazing.) She went on to say that she was alive because of the love of God, the kindness of Machungulu Methodist Church, and the wisdom of MMH. She asked all the widows to meet back at the church that afternoon and three hundred women showed up that Sunday. One hundred and eighty were tested for AIDS (the largest number tested at one time to date). Margaret also wanted the women to begin helping themselves and drawing people and communities together in support of each other. The women now make uniforms and other clothing and they plant, harvest and sell crops, roasted corn and yams in the marketplace. But most importantly, they have traveled as a united group from village to village to inspire and ignite other women and communities.

The attitude towards persons with AIDS, AIDS widows, and AIDS orphans has changed dramatically in the last 1½ years. Fifty women now receive anti-retroviral treatment. Many more need it but funds are lacking to subsidize the cost.

Some say Margaret has changed 600,000 people. One lady, chosen by God, given a chance to live and raise her 3 children along with 8 others, has transformed the world in which she lives.

If you want to help Maua Methodist Hospital keep women alive to raise their own children, you can. See below for instructions to write a check or use other methods. The Advance number for Maua Hospital Service Fund, Kenya is "Advance Special #09613A - NOTE: For Palliative Care"

Great things are happening in Africa and you can be a part of them!