After a decade of work in fighting HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, Dr. Chris Isichei has come to Fort Collins to speak tonight about his work and about his strategies in ending the spread of HIV in his country.
His mission is to bring faith and life to Nigeria, a nation that has been crippled by disease.
Citing a stark difference between the abysmal health care system in Africa and the advanced system in the U.S., Isichei took a collection of donated supplies and funds in Jos, Nigeria to treat patients in a four-room apartment with HIV. Just 10 years later, his hospital, which he named the Faith Alive Clinic, has become a three-story facility with more programs, supplies and staff members than before.
From counseling centers and home-based care, to health education and clothing and nutrition centers, the clinic attempts to provide everything patients need to live better lives.
Isichei said he makes an effort to remind his patients that there is always hope for a cure, and for a brighter tomorrow.
“I try to take them back,” Isichei said through his thick African accent. “To so many incurable diseases in the past, that then didn’t have a cure, but today they have a cure. I encourage them. Today HIV/AIDS does not have a cure, but tomorrow, maybe the cure.”
Faith Alive Clinic, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, is a U.S. initiative that provides funding to health clinics.
However, it is the churches and support groups across the U.S. that drive the emotion and faith of the clinic. The churches send their members to Africa to help with the effort.
Erika Nossokoff, a volunteer promoting HIV/AIDS research at the First Presbyterian Church in Fort Collins, went to Nigeria to see first-hand the effects of the disease. Nossokoff said Isichei reminded her of a “Mother Theresa” figure.
“He is small in stature, but he has a huge impact,” she said. “He is humble and soft spoken, deeply spiritual, with a vision to help the poorest of the poor.”
In Nigeria, a nation Isichei said largely uneducated about HIV/AIDS, those who contract the disease are treated as outcasts, simply because of a misunderstanding of the disease. In his treatments and patient meetings, Isichei hopes to combat misinformation and negligent treatment with positive encouragement.
“He stops those with the disease from feeling stigmatized or worthless or dirty,” Nossokoff said. “He puts his hand on their hand.”
Isichei said there was little point in secluding those inflicted with the disease, as working with them directly was more likely to inspire them to live out their lives, even if their days were numbered.
“There is no cure,” Isichei said. “So I let them know they can lead normal lives. I encourage them, since nobody knows who will die first, those who are well die, those who are sick die, they should have the courage to live their lives.”
Staff writer Alexandra Sieh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.