Monday, May 12, 2008

Shadowing an Accompagnatuer and Community Health Worker

Rural HIV Care House Visits

Whether you look left or right, banana trees consume your view. Intermittingly along the rough and rocky dirt road women will be walking with their cultivated produce balanced on their heads, children with their family’s yellow containers preparing to fetch water from the nearest well, and men with three bushels of bananas strapped to a bicycle that they are pushing. This has been the view for much of the 45-minute ride for rural HIV care house visits. This day I am shadowing an accompagnatuer and a community health worker – two mainstays and vital parts of Partners in Health’s (PIH) framework.

The idea is simple. A person in a community is trained to “accompany” another in their treatment of HIV/AIDS and their general wellbeing. It fosters a strong link in the community, acts as a referral process to the clinics, and has incredible results for adherence to treatment. It is a highly organized system in which accompagnatuers are responsible for their individual clients and then the community health workers monitor the progress with periodic joint visits. This day is one such visit. The accompagnatuer has six patients that she visits once a day at the same time to directly observe their morning antiretroviral dose and give them the medication for the afternoon. The furthest one lives 2km from her house, approximately a fifteen minute walk.

Our driver stops the creaking truck at a narrow path cut into sectioned off vegetation patches and at first I see no houses (see photo). As we continue down the path children begin to gather wondering what a “muzungu” is doing in their tiny and secluded rural community. A smile, a wave, and a greeting in kinyarwandan will be returned with brighter smiles, enthusiastic waves, and increasing curiosity. It is a recurring event that breaks initial barriers and reminds one of the simple beauties in life. We arrive at the desired mud house and exchange greetings, handshakes, and laughs at my attempts at the local tongue. The husband and wife give us the wooden bench and bring in a dried leaf mat for them to use on the floor. It is a simple gesture but it speaks volumes about the culture here and also the importance of the health workers in the eyes of the people.

The community health worker goes through a three page comprehensive questionnaire. The format is heavily geared for check marks and numbers therefore allowing me to follow along quite well. The husband and wife are both HIV+ and their first five kids have tested negative. There is a hesitancy to test the two-year-old child, which both workers attempt to address. The wife tested positive during a prenatal check up with that child, and the husband followed suit. This particular visit is evaluating the husband’s health. The questionnaire also contains other factors that are fundamental to health and are valuable resources for PIH’s social workers. Some of the alarming issues are that he eats one maybe two meals a day and that there are no mosquito nets over the three beds in the house. Positives are also noted, such as the house and metal sheet roof are in good condition and the cooking is done outside of the house. This last note is important because everyone cooks with coal, which when used inside living quarters can create numerous health risks. There are no complaints or illnesses reported and the community health worker neatly writes her findings and conclusions at the end of the last sheet.

After fifteen minutes the house visit is over. More importantly this family of eight in the deep rural areas of Eastern Rwanda has received attention that is potentially life changing. It is difficult for these people to get to a clinic so instead PIH branches out deep into the surrounding district in a proactive fashion. In essence they are trying to find the problems and bring the people in before they get worse. It is vital to understand that the mentality, which is common in many developing countries, is a visit to a doctor or clinic is only after ailment has become a serious problem. For instance the husband’s first CD4 count, the measure of the immune system’s strength, was 35 and he only got tested because his wife tested positive. To put this number into perspective HIV treatment starts at 200 and as high as 350 in malnourished populations. Less than two years later, his count is 1056, which is well within the range of an HIV negative adult. This is two more years that six children had a father and a family had a breadwinner – intangible positives that some times do not make it in statistics or reports.

The success of the accompagnatuers program has proven to be beneficial to the patient through varying areas – medical, social, and even psychological. The effect of the system and the relationship between the people in the room are highly visible. However, the meeting cannot go on too long because there are more houses to visit. After the thank yous we turn outside and are greeted by an even larger group of children. The path back to the truck is lined with string beans, bananas, and potatoes. A look around will show mud houses and endless cultivation. This is the setting, and this is the future of healthcare in rural areas of Rwanda.

1 comment:

WorldTeach Programs3 said...

That is SOOOO Rwanda! And BTW, about 2 days before you arrived in Rwanda I know that Farmer was there at Rwinkwavu because the Sunday after you arrived he was at MIT giving a keynote speech to us college students and talking about his most recent trip to Rwanda. He showed us all these pictures and seemed downright jovial about the work there. What an AMAZING human being! I wish your two paths had crossed (again) in Rwanda.

I really can't wait to read your book. ~K.S.