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HIV counselling programme reaches out to mothers in Guyana

© UNICEF Guyana/2006/Thompson
Sister Persis Halley counsels a mother whose family is living with HIV in Georgetown, Guyana.

By Leslyn Thompson

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, 28 June 2006 – Incapable of speech and abandoned by her mother at an early age, Mary (not her real name) has faced many challenges in life. But none of her problems have been as challenging as the ones she faces now because of HIV. Mary, 32, her young son and his father are all living with HIV.

Mary fondly remembers her childhood, when she lived with a great aunt who adopted her, as the best part of her life. She describes her adult life as “a living nightmare.” Her disability forces her into even deeper distress, as she can communicate in detail only by writing.

In West Ruimveldt, a suburban community here in Guyana’s capital, Mary lives with a family of nine, three of whom are living with HIV: herself, her child and her uncle. No one in the family will speak to her except for her uncle. Living under harsh domestic conditions, she is alienated, talked down to and discriminated against.

“I was told not to sit in the chairs and at the breakfast table,” Mary notes.

© UNICEF Guyana/2006/Thompson
At a hospital in Georgetown, Sister Persis Halley conducts a clinic session with expectant mothers on preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Regular visits from counsellor

Mary got the AIDS virus from Rick (not his real name), who is also incapable of speech. In 2002 her relationship with Rick bore them a baby boy who died three months after birth as a result of AIDS. Their second child, now over 18 months of age, receives medical treatment to fight the virus and stay alive.

For the past six months, Mary has been getting periodic visits from her counsellor, Sister Persis Halley, at an HIV prevention and counselling programme run by the Ministry of Health in collaboration with UNICEF at West Demerara Hospital.
“Even though Mary gets her anti-retroviral treatment from the David Rose Clinic and her son gets his HIV treatment from the St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Georgetown, I still visit her regularly to check up on them and offer counselling,” says Sister Halley.

A ray of hope

With her counsellor’s help, Mary tries to focus on a healthy lifestyle.

“We talk to her, tell her about proper nutrition and about avoiding conflict and stress. We try to help, but there is only a small amount we can do through outreach,” explains Sister Halley. “Her disability makes her vulnerable – she needs love and care and help, both emotionally and financially. She is willing to learn, she reads and writes fast and that’s a good sign.”
Recently, an overseas-based humanitarian group visited Mary’s home through the auspices of Sister Halley and supplied her with food and clothing. Mary’s son has been growing healthy with treatment, but Rick’s current whereabouts are unknown.

Mary’s spirits have been lifted as a result of participating in the HIV programme and knowing that, after all, there is hope.



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