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Filling the Information Gap in Honduras

Honduras, April 28, 2005

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Geoff Oliver Bugbee for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Most rural Hondurans have to travel long distances to reach the nearest small health clinic. Sincw 1982, Mercy Corps and local partner PAG have worked to make health care more accessible. Photo: Geoff Oliver Bugbee for Mercy Corps

The Lindo family did not know why their 3-year-old daughter Teresa couldn't seem to shake a long-running illness. It seemed to have no cure.

Despite repeated visits to a health center in Central Honduras' Comayagua Valley, Teresa's symptoms - weight loss, pallid skin and increased susceptibility to illness - continued to worsen.

The parents finally took her to a maternal healthcare clinic built and operated by Proyecto Aldea Global (PAG), Mercy Corps' partner organization in Honduras. There, nurse Gloria Ventura talked to the parents, examined Teresa and administered a blood test. The results showed Teresa was HIV positive and was developing full-blown AIDS, and that the virus had been transmitted from her parents, both of whom also were HIV-positive.

Families like the Lindos are not uncommon in Honduras, where there are more people infected with HIV than in the rest of Central America combined.

Once infected, people with HIV/AIDS are essentially banished from the public realm. Ordinary Hondurans know little about the causes and effects of HIV/AIDS, and the void is filled by gross misconceptions. One widely shared view, for instance, is that the virus is spread through the air or by mosquitoes. In addition, traditional healthcare providers, who are sources of information and primary care for many rural communities, have been slow to come to grips with the disease.

Mercy Corps is filling this void with medical care and information. Providing AIDS education is part of a broad range of community health programs that include domestic violence treatment and prevention programs, local clinics and child-survival initiatives.

A principal aim is to correct misunderstandings about the disease. One Mercy Corps HIV/AIDS program emphasizes education, home care, stigma reduction and teaching people how to care for people living with HIV/AIDS. Another is a PAG-led education program for young people, emphasizing abstinence before marriage. Abstinence is just one option for HIV/AIDS prevention, so it isn't PAG's only message; its health centers offer condoms for sexually active persons.

For now, the Lindos are caring for their 3-year-old daughter and receiving anti-retroviral drug treatments to help prevent the onset of AIDS. With education and support, they have been accepted back into their community, says Mercy Corps' Chet Thomas. But the work is not over, and education must be ongoing.

"Families need to understand HIV/AIDS," says Thomas. "They need to know how it is spread and what can be done."

The name of the family has been changed to protect their identity.