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More than 200 extinct volcanoes remind the people of
El Salvador of the danger that once rumbled across their land. Now, El Salvadorans are facing a far more deadly and widespread crisis: a growing HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Physicians from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital are helping stem the outbreak by joining with longtime partners at El Salvador’s Hospital de Niños Benjamín Bloom, a local nursing society and the Ministry of Health. Last spring, St. Jude initiated a five-month training course for 100 nurses who work with HIV/AIDS-infected children. The course was the first of its kind in El Salvador, and nurses have gone on to share their knowledge with thousands of health care providers nationwide.
“The impact has been amazing,” says Miguela Caniza, MD, director of the St. Jude International Outreach Infectious Diseases Program. She spearheaded the project after seeing that nurses in El Salvador were caring for a growing number of infected children, yet had little formal training on HIV/AIDS prevention or treatment.
After sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s most HIV-prevalent region is the Caribbean and Central America. “St. Jude can address this because we are experts in treating pediatric HIV,” Caniza says. “By exporting this expertise, we can make a difference.”
The HIV/AIDS course focused on controlling the spread of bacteria and other infection-causing germs.
“It’s still too early to measure the full impact of the training, but it will most definitely change the course of the epidemic in El Salvador,” says Luis Castaneda, MD, director of El Salvador’s new pediatric HIV/AIDS center. “It is visionary of St. Jude to take an interest in as big an endeavor as HIV prevention at a national level.”
The nurses have already begun projects to eliminate the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, provide teen counseling and educate the public about HIV/AIDS.
“The nurses left with a new outlook on HIV,” says Gabriela Maron, MD, a physician at Hospital Benjamín Bloom. “There is lots of machismo and cultural and religious barriers in our society, and our nurses left feeling that they can tear down the prejudices and be part of the solution.”
In 2002 when Rodrigo Siman, MD, an El Salvadoran health official, told Caniza he wanted to establish a center for treating pediatric HIV/AIDS patients, she told him to go for it.
“Why not? I think we must always dream big,” Caniza says.
In December 2004, Caniza attended the opening of the Centro de Exelencia para Niños con Inmumodeficiencia. El Salvador’s President Antonio Saca presented Caniza with an award of appreciation for the support St. Jude rendered in training the center’s staff. Caniza is already transforming this momentum into new projects. She is creating a similar HIV/AIDS training project for Honduras and has designed an intensive infection control course for nurses from 10 Latin American countries.
“The success has blown me away,” she says. “It goes to show that if you really know where to put your money and you do your best, you can make a difference.”
Reprinted from spring 2005 Promise magazine
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