Reachable by bumpy gravel roads or winding walking trails, countless women and their children living in the hills near Thomonde, Haiti are living examples of the power of accompaniment. Margaret is one of them.
A mother of four, Margaret (not her real name) was diagnosed with HIV in 1998 and has been on antiretroviral therapy provided by Partners In Health / Zanmi Lasante (ZL) since 2003. She would not be alive today without it.
Margaret has been visited by the same accompagnateur – a ZL community health worker who visits patients’ homes to provide social support and help patients take medication – every day, twice a day, for the past 10 years. She has had the same ZL social worker, Nereste Jean Francois, for the past seven years.
Margaret is open about her HIV status. Greeting guests with arms outstretched, she is warm and welcoming and quick to smile.
Margaret and her eldest daughter took part in a support group that Nereste organized for patients and families living with HIV. Margaret’s daughter said the group taught her how she can support her mom, and the importance of talking openly with her mom about the disease and their lives. After their group sessions were over, Margaret was asked to join another session to help provide encouragement for women new to the program. (For a study on the impact of PIH/ZL’s psychosocial support interventions for HIV infected families, see here.)
Even though Margaret’s four children are all in school thanks to ZL support, life is far from easy. There is never enough food and meals can be scarce. The roof of her hut needs repairing to stop rainwater from dripping through to the dirt floor. Nereste takes note. Margaret is only one of 700 families on his caseload; he knows them all.
“She’ll be with us forever,” Nereste says of Margaret, leaving no doubt this is a wonderful thing.