Combatting AIDS in the Republic of South Sudan
Mary Springston has cared for people living with HIV and AIDS, and educated others about the disease, for more than 20 years. Until recently, though, her work has primarily kept her in the U.S., where there is a concerted and well-funded effort among clinicians, as well as governmental and nonprofit agencies, to combat the disease.
Then Springston, director of the College's Physician Assistant Studies Program, worked to raise awareness of the disease and stop its spread in a nation with fewer resources, the Republic of South Sudan. She spent nearly two weeks working with officials from the country's Department of HIV/AIDS, delivering medicine, supplies and educational materials throughout the area known as Torit, which has a population of approximately 20,000 people.
Although HIV rates in South Sudan are difficult to gauge due to limited testing, it is estimated that three percent of the population is infected with the virus, and many of the nation;s leaders are concerned that could dramatically increase without significant testing and prevention efforts. Fighting the disease is further complicated by the fact that many primary health care units and hospitals were destroyed during the nation's 22-year civil war. That led to a shortage of drugs, supplies and equipment - as well as health care professionals - vital to the functioning of the remaining health care facilities.
During her trip to Eastern Equatoria, Springston visited seven health care facilities and led a two-day forum in which 19 community members were trained to help combat the disease. Among the forum's aims were: improving understanding of how HIV is transmitted and how its spread can be prevented; how to identify individuals who may be at high risk of contracting the virus; how AIDS progresses; and how the disease can be treated and monitored. Perhaps most critical, though, attendees were prepared to bring this information back to their communities.
"It really was a grass-roots effort," Springston said of the work. "Out primary goal was to train peer educators to encourage people to be tested and to erase the stigma that is too often associated with the disease."