By Suk-Lin Zhou '14
In Uganda, some one million people are living with HIV. Of that one million, many cannot afford the antiviral drugs that can help manage the virus and greatly increase their chances of survival. It's estimated there are 100,000 new infections every year, with women and children being the most often affected. Yet among the countries hit hardest by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Uganda has been improving thanks to Mildmay and volunteers like biochemistry major Nshunge Musheshe '12.
Mildmay is an international HIV charity organization dedicated to providing quality care, treatment, prevention work, rehabilitation, training and education, and health system improvement in the United Kingdom, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Eastern Europe. Mildmay began work in Uganda in 1993 at the the request of the Ugandan government.
For two months this past summer, Musheshe--who is from Uganda--was stationed at a field clinic in Entebbe. There, she used her biochemistry background and the skills gained in a previous internship at the Red Cross Children's Hospital in South Africa to work alongside accredited lab technicians in the HIV and tuberculosis screening labs. She was responsible for collecting intravenous blood samples from patients and for analyzing the DNA of children who came to the clinic with their parents to be tested.
"I have seen parents holding their children, crossing their fingers, and asking, 'What next?' For them, it's a period of uncertainty," she said. "It's also a period of guilt, knowing they might have passed the virus to their loved ones. That's why it's inspiring to me that they are willing to take the first step—they are willing to get tested and receive treatment."
Aside from the lab, Musheshe worked in inpatient and outpatient care and in the counseling center, where she helped discourage the stigma of HIV and helped patients cope with their status. She also encouraged them to seek treatment.
"It's about fighting for your life. You can still have children, you can still have family, and you can get treatment. You can still live on. You can protect the future," she said.
While this Mount Holyoke senior is optimistic Uganda will continue to improve, she knows an individual's will alone is sometimes not enough. Growing up, she saw her HIV-positive relatives weren't able to afford the antiviral drugs or treatment--even after they had worked very hard to save enough money. This made her critical of how international funds for the HIV campaign are being used, but it also nurtured her interest in medicine.
"The international community gives so much to the HIV campaign, so then why are some people still left untreated? It doesn’t make sense,” she said.
Musheshe knows the answer to this question is multifaceted, but she is determined to pursue the answers even after she graduates. For now, she is thankful for all the opportunities that Mount Holyoke College has already given her.
“While I’m here, it’s as if the College is saying to me, 'Go out there. Explore. Find something, and once you do, give back to the community in the ways you can.' Thanks to MHC, I’ve done just that, and in the end, I found myself. I am much more determined to go into medicine,” she said.