World AIDS Day 2008: Brendan Bannon blog - Day Two: A day of stark contrasts

DAY TWO: CONTRASTS

It is incredible to see two sides of a disease so seemingly different. One harrowing and horrible, the other colored by hope in the face of tragedy.

In the district hospital, I watched doctors and families gather around desperately sick children. Henry, three years old and HIV positive, is suffering from meningitis, which left him unconscious. His mother, father and aunt were bedside and consumed with concern and anxiety.

Doctors and nurses rushed around him tending to other children equally sick. There were at least two children to a bed - all with tubes inserted for feeding or breathing or intravenous fluids.

Eric, an MSF doctor, examined Henry's eyes to see what damage the meningitis had caused to his nervous system. I was told the boy's pupils responded equally to the light, meaning that the brain infection had not permanently compromised his nervous system. Chances for a good recovery were still high.

This news brought a brief moment of relief the family gathered in vigil around him.

In the afternoon, I visited Clinton, a 12 yer old HIV positive orphan who lives with his grandparents.

After walking five kilometers home from the hospital, Clinton effortlessly climbed a few hundred meters of steep hill to his grandparents home.
Clinton began treatment in 2003, two years before Henry was born. Five years later he is still strong enough to not need ART.

Clinton's parents died within six months of each other from AIDS. They refused to be tested and never sought medical help.

"My own son and his wife would not have died, but they refused to acknowledge this disease," his grandfather said. Clinton contracted the virus from his mother. At the first signs of illness, he agreed to be tested.

Although he is HIV positive, regular checkups and treatment at the first signs of opportunistic infection have kept him strong.

"Now there is nothing I can't do," he told me.

He also told me that he wants to be an aeronautical engineer. He sees planes flying overhead and now he wants to build them.

At one point he pulled a collection of bent and rusted nails from his pocket and began to sort and organize them.

"He is very practical and he does things practically. I think he could build airplanes someday," his grandfather said.

His grandmother, understanding that these pictures would be seen around the world, had a message to share: "The first one [Clinton's father] died because he did not go for the test. Clinton agreed to go and he is surviving. So I think everyone should go for the test. There is goodness in testing; and the goodness is that I am still seeing Clinton. And I am happy!"

Clinton, the future engineer wanted to "thank the people who design the drugs and deliver them. Without them I wouldn't be here."

"Without the drugs this district would be almost empty now." his grandmother added.