IUSM work in Kenya provides hope and care for people with HIV

December 10, 2015

The IU School of Medicine’s partnership with Moi University in Kenya is responsible for a restoration of hope in many African children living with HIV/AIDS through the medical research, advanced on-site healthcare, fundraising and patient support it provides.

Established in 1989 to deliver health services and train medical providers in Africa, this global partnership led to the development of AMPATH (the Academic Model for the Prevention and Treatment of HIV/AIDS) in 2001 to place specific attention and resources on the devastating pandemic of HIV/AIDS. AMPATH now includes participation by many other U.S.-based academic health organizations.

IUSM's Dr. Vreeman is helping to build awareness of treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS, while providing medical and emotional support to patients. | Photo By IU School of Medicine

As the 15th anniversary of AMPATH approaches and World AIDS Month progresses, the opportunity to celebrate the important work and research that’s happening to prevent and treat this disease can’t be missed.

At the center of this work is Rachel Vreeman, M.D., Associate Professor for Pediatrics at IU School of Medicine and Director of Research at IU Center for Global Health. In addition, as the North American Director of Research for AMPATH, Dr. Vreeman focuses on building awareness of important treatments and prevention strategies for HIV/AIDS, helping patients in need of medical and emotional support, and honoring those who have passed from the disease.

Dr. Vreeman spends six months of the year in Kenya working in clinics that IU School of Medicine, Moi University and AMPATH created, focusing on the challenges of providing long-term care for HIV-infected children in low-income communities. There are 25 clinics in Kenya through the IUSM-AMPATH partnership that provide critical care to more than 25,000 children with HIV along with 125,000 adults.

“More than 3 million kids in sub-Saharan Africa are living with HIV, and we want to help them have the chance to grow up and change the world,” said Dr. Vreeman. “I love partnering with our Kenyan colleagues to make sure that so many HIV-infected children can have a future. I love working on the challenge that IUSM has taken on to change global health.”

Dr. Vreeman’s commitment to this situation is truly life-saving. In many parts of the world, including the United States, people living with HIV/AIDS still face enormous stigma and discrimination. Families affected by this disease often struggle against this discrimination as well as the economic burden that the disease can create.

“The families we care for in Kenya report that they are discriminated against and isolated within their communities,” said Dr. Vreeman. “Neighbors don’t want to let their children play with or share food with HIV-infected children. If someone is known to have HIV, other people may stop coming to your business or they move away from you on the public bus. You will hear people saying things such as, ‘People with HIV are just going to die,’ or ‘only immoral people get HIV.’”

To help HIV-infected children in Kenya receive emotional support and counseling to combat this discrimination and cope with their diagnosis, Dr. Vreeman is making a unique effort to raise money through a fashion-oriented initiative. Dr. Vreeman calls her fundraiser The Pocket Square Project, in which pocket squares are handmade in Kenya from colorful, traditional African kitenge cloth.

All proceeds from pocket-square sales directly benefit support services for HIV-infected children in the AMPATH program. “[Support groups] help Kenyan children understand that HIV is just one part of the beautiful story of who they are and who they will become,” said Dr. Vreeman. “They change children’s lives by offering safe places to talk, build friendships, and learn to cope with their illness.”

Visit the AMPATH website for more information about the work of this global partnership. For details about IU School of Medicine’s other global health partnerships and training opportunities, visit IU Center of Global Health.

To support AMPATH and the IU School of Medicine's work in Kenya, click here. Pull the drop down window to “IU-Kenya Operating Fund.”