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A mother turns her grief into action against AIDS

Alaíde Elias da Silva runs Grupo Viva Rachid, a non-governmental organization composed of social workers, psychologists, health practitioners and volunteers and based in Recife, a city in north-eastern Brazil. Supported by UNICEF since 1993, all of Viva Rachid’s and Alaíde’s work is based on family care for those coping with HIV/AIDS.

The project was started for a deeply personal reason: Thirteen years ago, due to misinformation, prejudice and medical negligence, Alaíde lost her son Rachid, after he was infected with HIV at the age of one through a contaminated blood transfusion. For almost three years, Alaíde and her son struggled for his survival, facing numerous difficulties in accessing adequate treatment and care.

After Rachid died in 1993, Alaíde began to rebuild her life. To help other families and children living with HIV/AIDS, she volunteered in a hospital in one of the biggest cities in the most impoverished region of the country and established a network of mothers and families in need of support and orientation. She turned her grief into action to help other women and children who were facing a problem no one else wanted to address.

Alaíde felt that she could do something for those excluded because of poverty or suffering from prejudice. “Even those children who were HIV-negative felt the stigma because their parents lived with HIV/AIDS,” she recalls.

Thus, Viva Rachid was born

In Brazil, the national policy on HIV/AIDS guarantees free and universal access to antiretroviral treatment in all public hospitals. Viva Rachid works to ensure that families and children will accept and use the medication as recommended.

A centre of information, social care and support for children living with HIV/AIDS in Recife, Viva Rachid is a role model for similar organizations all over the country. It provides adequate nutrition, assistance for hospital visits, support to families and a positive environment for around 150 children and adolescents, most of whom live in poor communities in Recife.

Viva Rachid is also home to several boys and girls who have lost their families due to AIDS. Alaíde spent much of her childhood in an orphanage, and now she tries to ensure that children are part of a family and are protected from harm, abuse and stigmatization. She also works to empower mothers, fathers and extended-family members to care for their children and help realize their rights.

Currently, Alaíde focuses her actions on running Viva Rachid. “Nowadays, AIDS alone does not lead to death,” she says. “People die because of hunger, because of misery, because of a lack of decent living conditions. Anyone who goes through these problems is more vulnerable to the disease.”

Viva Rachid is an example of how women’s groups are often powerful catalysts for change. Read more about how such groups can also empower women to participate in politics.