Global Health Innovation’s Mission of Caring for Moms and Babies with HIV
Article Lisa Allen | Photos Provided
I could pack this article with statistics: approximately 23 million people live with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. Nearly 16 million children under the age of 18 have been orphaned by AIDS in Africa alone. Each day, 6,000 people in Africa die from AIDS.
There are more. Countless statistics that signify how little medical care there is for babies born—or even suspected to be born—with HIV. Numbers that lump every HIV positive mother into a group with a label that names the malady, but skims over the reality of what life is like to be sick, poor, and overlooked.
We could—and should—also talk about medical procedures, blood draws and how testing a baby for HIV requires a DNA test. We should talk about how the technology that Global Health Innovations (GHI) developed, along with its partner Ontarget, to log, track and treat mothers and babies who test positive for HIV, is as sophisticated and complex as the population it caters to is poor and underprivileged.
And we could talk about how email, cell phones that ping off of towers in London to reach mud huts in rural Africa, and labs built at the request of the Centers for Disease Control all factor into the good work done by an organization that calls the Northland home.
Instead, I want to tell you how Brad Gautney, PNP, MPH, made me cry.
He got a phone call one day from Malawi, with news that there was a baby girl with no mother and no father. An astute partner of Gautney’s suspected the baby was HIV positive, but there was no way to test her in the rural area in which she was born.
Gautney immediately boarded a flight and flew there, and traveled two hours after he deplaned to reach the baby. He drew blood and flew to Nairobi, where the blood was tested. Gautney flew back home that very same night. That’s when the phone call came.
The tests confirmed that she was HIV positive.
This happened five years ago. Today, Gautney sees her—now a “spunky, beautiful, spoiled little girl,”–whenever he visits that village. She’s one of his son’s closest friends when they see each other, he says, and he’s reminded each time he picks her up and twirls her around, that GHI, the organization he founded and serves as president of, is rooted not only in medicine, but in compassion and love.
“There is an epidemic across the way,” says Gautney. “Our organization, based right here in Parkville, is making an unbelievable impact. We’re saving lives, and we’re giving kids the opportunity to have a normal childhood.
We don’t just test, or hand out medicine,” he says. “These kids remind me that what we do is real. Everyone we treat is someone’s daughter or son. Their lives matter. That’s why we do what we do.”
Gautney’s journey began with a college internship in Haiti. He quickly saw that there were no services or options for HIV positive patients. Babies weren’t touched or held because of fear over the dangers of HIV and AIDS. That broke his heart, he says.
“Knowing that those babies would not ever get to experience the power of human touch,” he says, “put in my heart what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I’m blessed to do this,” he says.
From 2002 to 2006, Gautney and his family lived in rural Haiti. He ran a clinic, a school and a nutrition program. After four years, he knew there had to be a better way to make more of a difference. He returned to the states and to school, and earned two masters degrees: one in public health, the other as a pediatric nurse practitioner.
Eventually Gautney turned over his work in Haiti to a partner, and now, with GHI, focuses on needs in Africa. In addition to providing solutions and intervention that impact the lives of HIV positive moms and babies, Gautney and his team provide medical care for children living in orphanages, and for children rescued from slavery.
It’s not easy work, and it takes a toll not only practically, but emotionally. There are logistical roadblocks, like lack of transportation and medical care, as well as cultural issues. Gautney says one of the most important things he does is educating people about GHI’s work.
“Faith is why I do this,” he says, “but it’s bigger than just me. I’m sustained by my most amazing wife, Monica, who is really the foundation of everything I do. And Julie Dougherty, RN, is our HIT System Director. She’s in the trenches, making contact and building incredible relationships with the workers we have on the ground. She truly makes a difference in the lives of these people.”
Gautney has taken high school students from the Parkville area with him to Malawi each year for the past several years for two week trips. Students who aspire to someday work in medicine observe the care provided by GHI, and gain an understanding of what it truly means to take care of another person, says Gautney.
“We couldn’t do this without the grass roots support of the people of Kansas City,” says Gautney. “Even though we’ve started to see some grant money for the work we’re doing, the majority of our funds come from private donations from folks who understand the importance of what we’re doing.
If there could be one thing that I want everyone to know,” says Gautney, “it would be that every kid, no matter where they live, should have the chance to be loved. Every little girl and little boy should know how it feels to be normal and healthy. That’s my wish,” he says.
To learn more about GHI or to donate, visit GlobalHealthInnovations.org