University of Illinois at Chicago Office of Public Affairs (MC 288)
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UIC NURSE LEADS PROGRAM TO HELP SWAZILAND FIGHT AIDS
Just two years ago, she was simply hoping to reach out in some small way to AIDS-afflicted Africans, said Carol Christiansen, faculty member of UIC's College of Nursing.
Christiansen had learned of a charitable dispensary run by two septuagenarian missionaries in a rural outpost in the tiny kingdom of Swaziland. There at the St. Phillips Mission she offered to start an HIV/AIDS education program for a few local homesteads.
But the Swazi government, it turned out, was eager for a more comprehensive program, and her modest offer quickly morphed into a plan to help the entire nation of 950,000 people cope with an AIDS epidemic that is overwhelming its resources.
The Bristol-Myers Squibb and the Cabrini Mission foundations have just pledged $860,000 for her three-year program in Swaziland to provide home health care for people suffering from AIDS and to educate Swazis on ways to prevent the spread of the deadly disease.
Christiansen will go to Swaziland to work closely with the country's Ministry for Health and Social Welfare and with the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Swaziland, while the Cabrini Sisters, who run the St. Phillips Mission, provide administrative support. Together, they'll develop and implement a training curriculum in patient care and AIDS prevention for the country's 2,500 itinerant rural health workers. These workers, typically middle-aged, some with little or no schooling, crisscross the country on foot, visiting small towns and distant Swazi homesteads to offer advice and instruction on a range of health and hygiene issues, from constructing latrines to managing fevers.
"Home care is essential because the country's hospitals and clinics are already overburdened," said Christiansen. "Swaziland has made great strides in lowering death rates from chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease, and in reducing infant and maternal mortality. But the rising incidence of AIDS is reversing those gains."
Christiansen also hopes that the education efforts will help erase the stigma of AIDS in Swaziland. "Families try to hide relatives who have AIDS. Consequently, they don't get the care they need," said Christiansen.
A major goal is to establish a self-sustaining training program to enable Swaziland to handle the growing AIDS crisis on its own. It is estimated that by 2006 approximately 20 percent of the country's population will be HIV-positive.
Christiansen was trained as a nurse at Chicago's Columbus Hospital and earned a master's degree in public health nursing and a doctorate in nursing science at UIC. She first learned of the nuns' clinic in Swaziland when she worked at Columbus. The two sisters have run their dispensary in the Lubumbo region for 30 years.
"I always had it in the back of my mind to help extend the wonderful work of these remarkable women," said Christiansen. "Now Bristol-Myers Squibb and the Cabrini Foundation have made that possible."
Christiansen has traveled widely in the African continent, and been involved locally in Chicago in numerous efforts to teach AIDS prevention to minority communities. Her doctoral thesis investigated genital mutilation in Somali women, a practice that places them at high risk for contracting HIV.
With 25,000 students, the University of Illinois at Chicago is the largest and most diverse university in the Chicago area. UIC's College of Nursing ranks among the top 10 nursing schools in the United States. UIC is home to the largest medical school in the United States and is one of only 88 national Research I universities. Located just west of Chicago's Loop, UIC is a vital part of the educational, technological and cultural fabric of the area.
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