How ‘miracle’ of AIDS patients’ survival gives hope for future

It was the spring of 1998, while working as a clinician in Lesotho, that I first realized the terrible impact that HIV would have on my country. Patients were growing sicker by the day, and at times I thought I might not even have any more patients to care for within a few years.

We have made great progress since that time, both in Lesotho and globally. I have been proud and humbled to be a part of the global health community through my work in CHAI. I have witnessed the commitment and tireless work of people around the world collaborating to do the impossible: put an AIDS-free generation within our reach.

When I first joined CHAI as the Country Director in Lesotho in 2005, the organization was considered a newcomer to the world of global health. It was evident early on that CHAI’s approach to solving problems and delivering care was very different from the status quo. We fostered a deep partnership with Lesotho’s Ministry of Health that would eventually show in our work.

CHAI Lesotho introduced Lab and Clinical mentoring and soon persuaded the Government of Lesotho to introduce an antiretroviral therapy nurse initiation program, dramatically shifting the number of patients accessing treatment. While we made progress with adults, the lack of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs for children was disturbing. We were forced to take desperate actions to try and save the lives of children living with HIV; we crushed the adult HIV tablets and mixed them in syrup so babies could swallow them without choking. With this treatment, some of these babies lived. For many others, it was too late.

One of my proudest accomplishments was the introduction in 2005 of a pediatric ARV formulation. Two years later, we assisted the country with the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

From 2007-2012 I served as Minister of Health of Lesotho, but later rejoined CHAI. For me CHAI is home. It embodies the type of excellence, vision and values that many espouse but only the very few actually live. The goal of saving lives is very bold and yet it is humbling to see so many CHAI colleagues strive to do so every day.

In my new role as Executive Vice President, I am responsible for overseeing our global HIV, TB, Health Finance strategies. I face enormous challenges, along with our teams around the world. But with hard work, close cooperation with our partners, and commitment to the important mission of saving lives, we have achieved success and transformational changes that I believe will continue to have an impact for years to come.

We have worked tirelessly to create the fiscal space to scale up critical prevention and treatment interventions. We have collaborated with our partner countries to improve the effectiveness of both adult and pediatric ART and scaled up high-impact prevention interventions, including voluntary medical male circumcision, elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and treatment as prevention (TasP).

We have successfully assisted and persuaded our partner governments to roll out only proven interventions and to cut out programs that were not yielding results, even if they were popular.

The good examples of the work we do as CHAI are many, and so are the challenges. When the path ahead feels overwhelming, I think back to the miracle of those men and women coming back to life. I can never forget the catastrophe of the early days. I lived it! In all of that hopelessness and uncertainty we found incredible ambition.

More World Aids Day coverage:

The state of the antiretroviral market today
CHAI Access Program launches online HIV product toolkit