Club to grant funds for AIDS project

by Douglas Rojas

Not being able to cope with all the basic needs of AIDS patients is the most difficult part of the job for psychologist Cristina Garita, who works with AIDS victims in Costa Rica.
In Costa Rica, HIV/AIDS patients don’t have access to jobs and many times their own families discriminate against them. This discrimination is associated with the lack of information about the disease, said Garita, who has worked for eight years helping patients and their families to deal with the disease.
Garita is the director of the VIDA Foundation in San Jose, Costa Rica, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to reduce the impact of AIDS in families and patients. Vida means “life” in Spanish.
The foundation, along with other nonprofit organizations and government offices in this Central American country, will soon benefit from a $470,000 grant received by the Minneapolis-University Rotary Club. The money came from the Rotary International Foundation, which funds a series of humanitarian programs.
The Health, Hunger and Humanity Grant, which was announced last week by the Rotary International Foundation, will fund an HIV/AIDS educational and prevention project in San Jose, Costa Rica. The grant will be managed in conjunction with the Club Rotario San JosÇ Noreste.
The project hopes to put together several organizations in Costa Rica and recruit volunteers from the University and the Twin Cities. If successful, organizers hope the model will become self-sufficient and could be expanded to El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama.
The three-year project will develop a community network of trained volunteers for HIV/AIDS education and prevention, said Karen Houle, an immediate-past president of the Minneapolis-University Rotary Club.
The program will work with families to help them provide care for their relatives who are infected by the disease. It will also help provide transportation, training and education for volunteer caregivers, said Houle, who is the president of the University Language Center, a private language company.
Hopefully, this project will “help reduce prejudice against people with the disease,” said Paul Quie, regents’ Professor of pediatrics.
The idea to start an educational project that could control the spread of HIV/AIDS came from a trip Quie made to Costa Rica in 1993. His trip was part of the University Medical School’s educational program with the Escuela Aut¢noma de Ciencias MÇdicas at the Universidad Aut¢noma de Centro AmÇrica.
Quie, whose specialty is infectious diseases and who is a Rotary volunteer, was impressed by the way volunteers and families offered support to AIDS patients. Along with University professor Philip Peterson and Dr. JosÇ Moya from the Fundaci¢n VIDA, Quie started working on ventures that could control the spread of AIDS.
Costa Rica was chosen not only for its ties with the University Medical School, but also because it has an effective socialized health system that provides some assistance to people with HIV/AIDS, said JosÇ Silva, president of the international service avenue of Club Rotario San JosÇ Noreste.
After five years of intensive work, the money for the project was awarded.
“Although Costa Rica has a good health care system, it’s never too much,” Silva said. “We need to increase the social acceptance of the disease.”
The largest chunk of money will go to provide training for volunteers at the project’s headquarters in San Jose. The rest will be distributed among transportation, fees for professional services and educational materials.
Costa Rica has 3.5 million people, and according to the World Health Organization, between 15,000 to 30,000 people there are HIV-positive.
But the move could start a long-term disease eradication campaign in Central America, said Dr. Carlos Armando Contreras, former Rotary Club president who was involved in the beginning of the project in 1994.