In her first month in Malawi, recent Boston University graduate Emily Bearse met a 22-year-old woman who had tested HIV-positive during pregnancy and was fearful of passing the virus onto her unborn child. She received treatment to prevent transmission of the virus during birth. After the baby was born, the infant was treated as well. But the woman had told none of this to her husband. Bearse called in a trained peer counselor, also HIV-positive, to talk to the woman. As Bearse recently told me:
“As the woman was telling her story, she started crying. She was doing everything she could to prevent transmission of the virus to her baby. But her husband doesn’t even know she is HIV-positive. She’s convinced he will kick her out of the home. So the whole time she is hiding the fact that she is taking treatment. The counselor shared her own story, how hard it was to tell her family what it was like to test positive. She counseled the woman on how to tell her husband and to encourage him to come to the clinic with her.
You could see the woman as she was leaving the clinic, she felt a weight had been lifted off of her. She was going to try to bring the husband to the health center. The connection she had made with the counselor was very powerful.”
It was one of Bearse’s many experiences as a Global Health Corps fellow in Malawi, where she is helping to launch a new Clinton Foundation program to increase the number of women and children who take advantage of HIV care and prevention services. The Global Health Corps, begun a year ago, aims to promote global health equity while providing new college graduates with opportunities in the global health field. In its first year, it placed 22 fellows in underserved areas of Africa and the United States. They provided a range of services, from counseling homeless teenagers in New York City to opening a district pharmacy in rural Rwanda.
The program is now preparing to welcome 38 new fellows for training at Stanford that begins July 12. On the itinerary? Sessions by faculty on such topics as social justice, democracy and development in Africa, microfinance, urban poverty in America, cross-cultural awareness and the practical aspects of working as a team.