Give a Day Helps HIV+ Teens Access Treatment

Hi! My name is Daniela Garone, Medical Program Manager with Dignitas International. I am writing to Give a Day supporters so you can know what a powerful impact you have when you donate to Dignitas! I want to share with you the special impact of our Teen Club program.

Being a teenager in Canada is hard. There is a lot of pressure to fit in and not be perceived as different. This challenge isn’t so different for the teens that I meet at Dignitas International’s Teen Club in Malawi, where HIV+ teens receive support and care.

These teens, despite their HIV+ status, are looking for the same sense of social belonging that Canadian teens are seeking. Yet the stigma around HIV and the need to take medication on a daily basis are concerns most teens – in Canada and in Malawi – do not have to worry about.

Stigma and fear can mean that HIV+ teens do not access the treatment they need to stay healthy or that they stop treatment due to social pressure and feelings of isolation. As if things weren’t challenging enough, many adolescents living with HIV in Malawi are more likely to be orphans who are dealing with serious concerns about food security, livelihood and shelter, in addition to their health.

These teens need special support. Many health programs are targeted to meet the health needs of children and adults, but there is an urgent need to expand teen-friendly care and awareness of adolescent health needs.

In 2010, Dignitas responded to these needs by starting Teen Club to provide comprehensive services for HIV+ teens, including medical care, peer support and HIV education. As I write today, the program has grown to 12 Teen Club sites providing care to more than 1,600 teens.

Teen Club is one of my favourite days of the month. On a Saturday morning, something special happens across the South East Zone. HIV+ teens come together to receive their medication and specialized healthcare.

Dignitas staff and special mentors lead social and peer-support activities, like large group games, sports, dance, drama, and arts and crafts. Our Teen Club Coordinators incorporates educational components including HIV education, so that teens better understand growth and development, life skills, healthy sexuality, gender issues and financial literacy.

We give special attention to supporting teens to stay on prescribed HIV treatment, as this is essential to ensuring productive, healthy lives. Thanks to our generous supporters, Teen Club is a positive space for HIV+ teens to work through their challenges with the support of their peers.

We know that Teen Club is working. Dignitas research shows that 95% of our Teen Club participants stay on HIV treatment, greatly improving their health. Teen Club members are three times more likely than their peers to stay on treatment when compared to their HIV+ peers who do not have access to such supportive care.

When you make a donation to Dignitas’ Teen Club through Give a Day, you are supporting vulnerable HIV+ teens to grow into healthy and productive adults. Thank you!

Yesse’s Story

by Justine Ojambo, Executive Director, PEFO and 2014 Give a Day speaker

Dear Friends,

Greetings from PEFO (Pheobe Education Fund for Orphans in Uganda). It was a great pleasure meeting you last year, our dear friends that have supported PEFO through SLF and the Give a Day campaign. Memories of meeting and talking to you will always be part of me. Your donations through SLF continue to enable PEFO to give hope and allow AIDS orphans to live in dignity and fulfillment. On behalf of PEFO, I want to share with you the story of Yesse Shafic, an orphan who has gone through great pain as a result of losing both his parents to HIV/AIDS and had lost hope in life. But with your support through SLF, PEFO has been able to help orphans like Yesse access education and regain their dignity in our communities. Yesse is an example of the many thousands of orphans whom PEFO has been able to support through your donations over the years. Without your donations orphans like Yesse would have no meaning in life. Through your support PEFO is enabling orphans like Yesse to access education and support and remain in school. It’s this education that will form a strong foundation for their adult life. Thank you for being a Give a Day supporter.

Justine Ojambo, Executive Director, PEFO and 2014 Give a Day speaker


Below we share a story of one of the children supported under the PEFO SLF funded Education project. Yesse is just one of the children among many thousands that have suffered the impact of HIV/AIDS right from their early childhood.

Yesse Shafic is a 17 year old student at Njeru secondary school. He was born in Buikwe district, Uganda. At the age of 9 years, he lost both his parents to HIV/AIDS. Yesse assumed the role of parenting his two younger siblings when their parents died. He was too young to know what to do. He opted for casual labour in the neighbouring homes and farms to provide food for his siblings. Unfortunately, his siblings were sickly; they too were positive and sadly they both died under his care. This worried him and he decided to go for an HIV test all by himself to confirm his status, fortunately his results came back negative.

Shortly after his siblings died, the landlord visited to ask him to find relatives to stay with as he needed the house to rent out to people who were able to pay the bills. It’s then that Yesse realized the house was never theirs. He had run out of food and sold everything sellable to keep him surviving and in school. He cried every time he thought about the fact that he may one day be forced to drop out of school. He wanted to study a health related course so that he could contribute to the fight against HIV/AIDS. He spoke with his head teacher about his situation. The head teacher was kind but also very poor. He offered to meet Yesse’s school costs such as examination fees and meals at school but he could not take him in for accommodation, he hardly had enough space for his own family. He helped Yesse trace his maternal uncle. This uncle and his wife took Yesse in. They were not rich but they loved him just like their other two children.

However, his uncle’s wife died just a year after from HIV/AIDS. The uncle married another woman quite soon. His new wife didn’t want to support Yesse or the children from his first wife. She mistreated all of them and when Yesse’s uncle become sick and weak, he could not fight for them. He soon died and his second wife sent both Yesse and his cousins away from the home. The maternal relatives of his cousins took them in but they didn’t take Yesse, he was not their relative. Homeless, he moved from place to place at night. His best friend at school felt pity for him and spoke with his mother to accommodate him and his mother accepted and gave Yesse accommodation. He started calling her aunt and she played the role of being a true aunt to him.

When Yesse reached form 7 (his final year of primary school), his performance was promising. He was excited about his final year in primary school but the costs of form 7 were high, so his aunt sought support for him from PEFO. Yesse was enrolled in the SLF Education Programme which covered his school fees for him. When it came time for National examinations Yesse knew the National Examination Board requires all students to be in uniform during the exams, yet Yesse had neither uniform nor shoes on his feet. When Yesse picked up his money for his National examinations, he took it and used it as capital for a business. He bought some silver fish and hawked them door to door to raise money for his additional costs. After two weeks Yesse was able to make a profit and buy himself a uniform. When the Primary Living Exams (PLE) results were returned, Yesse had emerged the best from his school. Yesse’s determination to excel prompted PEFO to meet Yesse’s full tuition for secondary school to allow him focus on his education.

His aunt relocated to Kampala after a divorce but she continues to pay his rent and provide food.

Yesse says that “I feel so good because every day I go to school. I’m very grateful to PEFO and my new aunt for the support. I want to become a midwife after my first degree to help protect the new born babies from HIV/AIDS during delivery”.

What can one person hope to accomplish on one day?

by Dr. Jane Philpott, Give a Day founder

Dr-JanePhilpottWhen confronted with a massive global crisis, it’s tempting to feel powerless. But when you see that massive crisis through the face of its individual victims, you sense an irrepressible urge to find some practical way to respond. That’s what inspired an idea that would grow into the campaign we now call “Give a Day to World AIDS.”

I will always remember the night, 10 years ago, when I first pitched the idea of Give a Day. I had recently returned to Canada after living in West Africa for a decade. I had seen the devastation caused by the AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa. AIDS took the life of the director of the hospital where we had worked in Niger, leaving his young family without a husband and father. He was one of countless young adults whose lives were cut short in the community where we lived. In those days, anti-retroviral treatment was rarely available in West Africa. A diagnosis of HIV infection meant agonizing illness and inevitable death.

Here in suburban Ontario, as a family doctor, I began to care for a few patients with HIV and was thankful for the resources that were available. But I could not stop thinking about millions of people in sub-Saharan African who did not have access to the same treatment. In 2004, less than half a million people in the world had access to life-saving anti-retroviral therapy for HIV infection.

Thankfully, someone gave me a platform and I took it. A local surgeon, Dr. Paddy Whelan, invited me to speak at a Medical Staff Association dinner. I talked to my physician-colleagues at Markham Stouffville Hospital. We talked about the state of the AIDS pandemic. My colleagues felt tremendous compassion. We needed a practical way to express that concern. So I made a simple proposal. I said: “World AIDS Day is December 1. What if we decided on that day, that we are working on behalf of people living with HIV? What if we each calculate how much money we earn in a day and give it to a great organization supporting people affected by HIV?” My colleagues responded with generosity. People handed me cheques and credit card numbers. On December 1st 2004, the doctors of Markham Stouffville Hospital gave over $33,000 to the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Give a Day was born.

The Give a Day campaign has grown tremendously since then. It has spread through medical, legal and business communities. Dozens of incredible volunteers have shared the Give a Day challenge with their colleagues. Each year since 2004, hundreds of people give one day’s pay to great organizations like Dignitas International and the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Nearly $4 million has been raised to support the people and places most affected by HIV.

The state of the pandemic has changed in 10 years. While there are over 35 million people living with HIV, the number of new infections and the number of AIDS deaths declines each year. Over 10 million people now have access to treatment. The global community has made progress. But still, over 4000 people die every day from this preventable and treatable illness. It’s hardly time to relax.

The best news from Give a Day is about how much one person can do on one day. Robert Kennedy once advised against “the belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills.” Indeed he went on to say that: “It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man or woman stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

One person on one day can accomplish a huge amount of good, in the same way that single ripples can join to build a mighty current. When we join colleagues, friends and acquaintances across the country in giving one day’s pay on World AIDS Day, the collective effect is tremendous. It means that considerable resources are channeled into Canadian organizations that use the money effectively to address the pandemic. But it also means that we refuse to feel powerless. We refuse to do nothing. We insist on making a contribution and challenging others to do the same. This year, on December 1, I urge you to join the effort. Please Give a Day to World AIDS.

Dr. Jane Philpott is a family doctor in Markham, Ontario. She is the founder of Give a Day to World AIDS.

90-90-90: A three-fold attack on HIV/AIDS

by Dr. Rajiv Singal, Dignitas International Board Member

Dr Rajiv Singal

We know how far a day’s pay can go for ourselves – imagine the difference it can make for a person living with HIV in a resource-limited country. I first heard of Give a Day several years ago when my friend and fellow Dignitas Board member Jennifer Keenan invited me to an event. That night I met the founder of Give a Day, Dr Jane Philpott. I subsequently organized my own event with Dr. Eleanor Colledge at Toronto East General Hospital. The simple premise of the campaign is to donate a day’s pay to Dignitas International and/or the Stephen Lewis Foundation in an effort to combat the scourge of HIV/AIDS in the developing world. The current crisis with Ebola highlights that it is in all of our interests to ensure that people everywhere have access to decent medical care.

Recently, UNAIDS and WHO estimated that there were 35 million people living with HIV/AIDS. A staggering 22 million people, 63% of those infected, are still without access to anti-retroviral treatment. While significant strides have been made since 2003, we are not even remotely close to the end of the epidemic.

As we look ahead, new strategies are being adopted to prevent new transmission of HIV/AIDS and improve the health and lifespans of those living with the disease. In September, UNAIDS announced 90-90-90: a threefold attack on HIV/AIDS. This strategy sets to meet three goals by 2020.

First, 90% of all people living with HIV must know their status – this means more HIV tests, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where only about half of all people living with HIV are aware of their positive status. This along with better public education could have a profound effect on disease transmission.

Secondly, 90% of HIV-positive people will start and sustain anti-retroviral treatment.

Finally, of those on anti-retroviral treatment, 90% will have viral load suppression. In other words, the virus will be sufficiently suppressed in order for them to lead healthy and productive lives while also reducing the probability of transmission to others.

If we make these targets a reality by 2020, UNAIDS predicts 73% of those living with HIV/AIDS will be virally suppressed. Nevertheless many hurdles remain. Stigma and discrimination, persistent in the social structure of sub-Saharan Africa still deters many people from HIV testing and treatment. Accessibility to treatment, particularly in rural communities, also remains a profound obstacle. Finally, funding for HIV treatment and programs must be strong and consistent. Robust international assistance is essential to keep building momentum towards the end of AIDS. The health of the developed world is ultimately linked to the health of the most vulnerable.

Every day, we make positive strides towards the end of HIV/AIDS, but on Give a Day, we have an opportunity to impact further. An AIDS-free generation is in sight, but only if we work for it. We must not let this opportunity slip away.

On December 1, please consider donating a day’s pay to Dignitas International and/or the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

Give a Day Photo Exhibit 2014

by Anne Connelly, Dignitas International


I always look forward to the holidays. But between Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the rush of holiday shopping, sometimes the true meaning of the holidays gets lost in the shuffle. Give a Day serves as a poignant reminder of the season’s spirit of generosity and the profound impact it can have. It urges all Canadians to give just one day’s pay to an organization dedicated to fighting HIV/AIDS. One donation can save a life, and when we all contribute, the difference we can make is transformational.

To commemorate World AIDS Day, this year the Give a Day campaign will launch a photo exhibit in First Canadian Place on November 24th.

This photo exhibit honours the 10th anniversary of Give a Day. It captures the meaningful change that happens when funding and support goes to innovative and resourceful organizations in Africa working to beat back the ravages of the AIDS pandemic. Each photo is a snapshot of how the response on the frontlines has grown and holistically evolved and how, with a modicum of support, lives have been transformed. The photos and commentary highlight the work of the Give a Day partner organizations, Dignitas International and the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

Please take a walk through the lobby of First Canadian Place between November 24 and December 1 to see the powerful photos on display. They’re the inspiring proof that our support really does make a difference.