I have lived most of my adult life the countries that have two of the three highest prevalence rates of HIV in the world – Lesotho and Botswana. It’s only in the last 6 months, though, that I’ve personally known someone who has died from AIDS. Actually, two people. That’s right, two people in my life have died from AIDS in the last 6 months. I got lucky as a Peace Corps Volunteer to come to Botswana at a time when access to care and treatment had increased tremendously. PCVs in the groups before me spoke of attending funerals nearly every weekend. I attended just two funerals as a PCV. Sure, people continued to die; I just didn’t know any of them personally.
I’m sure this is some kind of “expat aid worker” cliché, but I’ll go ahead and say that the deaths in the last 6 months have been a reminder of why I work in public health and especially HIV. It’s a reminder that although there has been tremendous progress in scaling up HIV care and treatment services there are still challenges to address. Because the medicines are available in Lesotho but not enough people are taking them. Because we can’t assume that those who have started treatment are well. Because people shouldn’t have single digit CD4 counts. Because people shouldn’t die from AIDS.
Here’s to finding renewed commitment when it would be easy to become jaded.