Iradukunda Maranta enjoying his food.
Eight-year-old Iradukunda gingerly sips his milk. The white plastic cup swallows his face momentarily and all you can see are big, bright-shining brown eyes. He puts the cup down and smiles. In his lap is a feast a huge bowl of boiled eggs. The edible ensemble simply looks like a good meal. But the nutritious banquet is more than food; it's one essential weapon in Iradukunda's personal fight against HIV and AIDS.
Iradukunda, who attends a Compassion program in Rwanda, is among the 40 million people around the world living with HIV/AIDS. In the past, an HIV-positive person faced an immediate death sentence. But now people living with HIV can live longer if they get treatment that includes drugs and proper nutrition and diet.
Before receiving assistance from the project, the little boy ate just one meal a day and was so sick he couldn't attend school. Now Iradukunda gets a regular helping of milk, eggs and fish. These meals, along with regular antiretroviral (ARV) therapy administered by project staff, help stave off the debilitating effects of HIV and allow him to attend school and play with friends. Thanks to Compassion's AIDS Initiative, Iradukunda is experiencing life where once there was only death.
"Compassion found me in the midst of frustrations of poverty and death," says Judith, Iradukunda's mother. Judith is also HIV-positive and her husband died from AIDS two years ago. "I was poor and I had no hope for tomorrow. Compassion enhanced my life and (the lives) of my children."
The Treatment Era
Though there is still no known cure for AIDS, gone are the automatic death sentences placed on people afflicted with the disease. In western cultures, ARV therapy has been used for years to slow down the disease's effects. ARV therapy works by slowing down the reproduction of the HIV virus in the body. But in developing nations like Rwanda, HIV can still mean rapid death because people in poverty do not have access to medical treatment. Through Compassion's AIDS Initiative, project staff are administering government-provided ARV therapy to registered children.
In addition, Compassion-assisted projects are providing much-needed medical follow-ups, nutritious supplements where needed, and increased awareness to usher in a positive attitude and focus on prevention. The change has been dramatic.
"Before the introduction of antiretroviral drugs to our children, we were challenged by continuous death of sick children," says Dr. Jean Luc Nkurikiyimfura, Health Program Specialist at Compassion's Rwanda Country Office. "But since we began giving the drugs and nutritious foods, we have experienced a decrease in death and medical complications (from the disease) in our children."
Living With Hope
Thanks to medicinal advancements, many people say they're "living with AIDS," instead of dying from the disease. But Judith says thanks to the Compassion AIDS Initiative she is living with hope as well.
"We have a future," she says of her family. "My son is getting all the necessary medical attention and he is in school. Compassion has strengthened us with hope. God bless Compassion and sponsors."
*Briton Kamugisha in Kigali, Rwanda, contributed to this story.
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