This summer I’m working in the national office for the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), whose mission is to ensure that everyone living with HIV/AIDS can lead a healthy life and that the health care system provides everyone equal and necessary support and treatment. TAC is based in seven different provinces, such as Western Cape, Free State, Limpopo and Gauteng. The fieldwork includes a variety of activities, such as ensuring that people are educated about the importance of always taking their antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), the significance of doing PAP smears, and tackling the stigma around talking about sex, contraceptives and reproductive rights. It also partakes in advocacy campaigns, which tackle issues such as a critical lack of basic supplies including gloves, and gender based violence. Two of the departments that I have observed during the past two weeks are important to the success of TAC – Resource Mobilization and Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL). Resource Mobilization writes the grants and ensures that money is still coming in to support the many activities of TAC, while MEL aggregates, captures and analyses the data that is coming in from the field. I have had the opportunity to work in both of these departments and I have learned about the incredible amount of work done by TAC. I have realized how important it is for any organization to have a well trained and hard working group of dedicated people who allow the field work to go smoothly and for accurate information about TAC activities to be aggregated and shared.
I often think about what it means for me to be working in the national office of an NGO. I don’t have a lot of interaction with people who are running the campaigns or with people served by the campaigns. I also don’t want to pretend that I know everything that is happening here at the national office, because every day I realize how intricate TAC is. However, over the last few weeks, my understanding of how an NGO tackles such huge health issues has increased exponentially. I have had the chance to read about what is happening in the field, to hear concerns that the TAC branches have, as well as hear about their successes. I was able to help prepare for a small demonstration, and I interacted with the people who were partaking in it. I contacted media outlets to explain the demonstration and prepared the materials for it. The demonstrators and TAC staff showed such excitement and care for the issues that they were tackling and I was incredibly moved. I’ve also seen the importance in reports and data, even though they may seem boring or pointless to an outsider, because they allow a group like TAC to continue being funded to do their critically important work.
I have realized how much we, or at least I, take for granted in life. I’ve taken for granted the existence of organizations such TAC where many people devote a lot of time and work behind the scenes to make sure the field work is carried out successfully. I have also taken for granted that basic necessities in health are available to everybody. I was aware of the many problems existing in the world and how unfortunately there are way too many people lacking the basics for a decent and healthy life. However, it is one thing to talk about these problems in class, and another to directly hear that they affect people. By working in this organization, I have seen how many basic resources are lacking, and how negatively this impacts the lives of so many people. For instance, problems that arise include the lack of gloves, basic medical supplies and the shortage of tests, which prevent many clinics from testing for HIV or HPV. These are needed for the prevention, diagnosis or treatment of HIV or HPV, in addition to other illnesses. One of the tasks that I was helping with was entering data and reports on what is happening in the various provinces. I realize this may not sound too exciting to many people, but I came to the realization that this basic and behind the scenes work is an important step towards the overall goal to assure better health and a better quality of life for numerous people. I also had the opportunity to learn what is happening in different provinces and see various patterns arise, such as the huge differences between men and women who go to these workshops and clinics.
I’m ending this post by linking a video showing the dire situations at an assortment of different hospitals in the Free State that TAC posted on their Facebook page. To summarize the video, hospitals are lacking necessities such as life-saving TB and HIV drugs, they are putting HIV patients at risk by keeping them in the same room as TB patients, they are horribly understaffed, and it appears that people are dying from problems that could have been prevented or at least treated. When I was done watching and hearing about the appalling state of health in some of these hospitals, I was both shocked at what I had seen, but also inspired that I want to take part in health and health care around the world. It is important to acknowledge the incredible successes that organizations like TAC have accomplished, but we can’t forget how much more there is to do. And, it is vital that we remember the importance of the basics – both the behind the scenes work of an organization and the basic medical and sanitary equipment needed to save lives.