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Dr Rochele Miller Beachy, a member of a visiting medical group, and Dr. Christian Isichei MCC

Dr Rochele Miller Beachy, a member of a visiting medical group, and Dr. Christian Isichei MCC

AIDS clinic in Nigeria inspires visiting medical workers

Tim Shenk
November 28, 2008

AKRON, Pa. – Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) organized a group of 13 North American medical workers to learn about global AIDS issues and care for AIDS patients during a visit to Nigeria from Nov. 1 to 23.

Participants said a highlight of the trip was their time spent at Faith Alive Clinic, an MCC partner organization that provides AIDS testing, counseling and treatment to thousands of people in the Nigerian city of Jos.

The medical group worked alongside Nigerian colleagues at Faith Alive. Members described meeting AIDS patients who had regained their health through treatment and others who appeared to be near death.

Dr. Theo Beels, a group member from Grand Rapids, Mich., said he was impressed by how the clinic serves patients physically and spiritually. On Sunday afternoons, for example, the clinic organizes a support group for women with AIDS.

"The women who come to the support group seem to carry a real joy that only can come from the Holy Spirit and not from anything else," Beels said. "They know that they have a fatal disease, and still they are supported by their faith and by their community, which is encouraged and nurtured by the Faith Alive Clinic."

Sarah Sprunger, a registered nurse from Pandora, Ohio, decided to participate in the trip after a friend told her about a previous visit to Faith Alive.

Sprunger had cared for AIDS patients in the U.S. in the 1980s, before treatment was widely available. She said that some patients at Faith Alive looked much better than her patients had two decades ago.

"They have life in their eyes and joy on their face, and they've gained weight back, and they're working. It's really awesome," Sprunger said.

Faith Alive's main building was destroyed by a fire in 2006, but the clinic has largely recovered from that disaster. It now occupies an attractive, three-story facility, according to the group leader, Dr. Rochele Miller Beachy, of Shaker Heights, Ohio.

Religious organizations such as Faith Alive provide about 40 percent of AIDS treatment in sub-Saharan Africa, according to Joanna Hiebert-Bergen, MCC's HIV/AIDS coordinator. In Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, approximately one in 10 people has HIV.

MCC is providing about $540,000 over three years to support the work of Faith Alive, including providing AIDS medications to about 500 patients. Visit mcc.org/aids to learn more about MCC's work with AIDS or to support it financially.

A blog by members of the group is available online at Nigeria learing tour.

Tim Shenk is a writer for Mennonite Central Committee.