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Togolese Nun Ramps Up Efforts for HIV Care during Pandemic

Marie-Stella Kouak is one of the few well-known female community leaders in Dapaong, a buzzing, multi-religious city, 13 miles south of Togo’s border with Burkina Faso and more than 300 miles north of the capital, Lomé. Kouak has built up one of Dapaong’s most impactful non-profit organisations. In 1999, she founded Vivre dans l’Espérance (To Live in Hope) with a handful of volunteers to support people living with HIV and Aids. Soon, she started to take in Aids orphans, first in a building named after Saint Augustine and then in a bigger compound. The NGO employs 65 people, runs a community health centre and a farm, and will soon open a primary school. In 2019, it provided health, food and psychosocial support to around 1,500 people living with HIV and Aids across Togo’s northernmost province. When Covid-19 was declared a pandemic in March, Kouak quickly adapted. The Togolese government restricted local and regional transport, so most of her patients were unable to get to Dapaong. She step up home visits, taking food, sanitary items and antiretroviral drugs to rural communities.