How a Canadian doctor is fighting HIV-AIDS in one of the hardest-hit countries
Published Thursday, November 29, 2018 10:00PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, November 29, 2018 10:29PM EST
A Canadian doctor has made it her life’s mission to help eradicate HIV-AIDS in a small African nation where nearly one-in-four adults have the disease.
Anne Marie Zajdlik, a family physician from Guelph, Ont., made her first trip to Lesotho 12 years ago. The tiny African nation, which borders South Africa on all sides, has the second-highest prevalence of HIV in the world, with 23 per cent of adults aged 15 to 49 living with the incurable virus.
Dr. Zajdlik has since travelled to Lesotho nine times to provide medical aid. She also treats patients with HIV-AIDS back in Canada.
“I think it’s our responsibly to work both locally and globally to end the AIDS pandemic,” Dr. Zajdlik told CTV News from a remote village in Lesotho.
The trips to Lesotho changed her life forever. Dr. Zajdlik recalls how in 2006 she held a two-year-old girl’s hand as she died from the disease.
“My heart broke and my view of the world was shattered,” she wrote on her blog.
That same year, Dr. Zajdlik established Bracelet of Hope, a charity that sells beaded bracelets for $5 to fund medical clinics and foster homes for children abandoned or infected by HIV-AIDS.
According to the United Nations, an estimated 13 million children worldwide have become orphans after their parents died of AIDS.
The organization’s first goal was to raise $1 million to build Lesotho’s first AIDS clinic. They reached the goal in three years.
Now, Dr. Zajdlik’s team has set an even more ambitious goal: raising $1.5 million to pay for a fleet of six mobile health units. Similar units are already bringing essential aid to adults and children living in some of the most isolated regions of the country.
“We’re watching people here get treatment not only for HIV but also testing, counselling. The kids are being weighed in the trees behind me, and they’re receiving immunizations,” said Dr. Zajdlik.
The organization hopes the efforts will push Lesotho closer to meeting the World Health Organization’s goal of completely eradicating HIV by 2030.
At the moment, an estimated 36.7 million people are living with the virus. More than two-thirds of those people live in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“I am so confident we are going to reach that goal. But in order to do that we have to reach out to all people who are suffering from HIV, and a lot of those individuals are in very remote areas of resource-poor countries like this one,” Dr. Zajdlik said.
It’s hard to overstate the HIV-AIDS crisis in Lesotho. Twenty-nine per cent of women in the country have HIV, including one-in-four pregnant women. Men, by comparison, have a prevalence rate of about 18 per cent.
In Canada, an estimated 75,500 people live with HIV-AIDS -- less than 1 per cent of the population. Of those, an estimated 16,000 are unaware they are infected, according to a 2014 federal report.
This Saturday marks the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day, when organizations around the globe partner together to help eliminate the disease.
With a report by CTV News’ medical affairs specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip