The Creativity Initiative at the Infectious Diseases Institute in Uganda (where I was the foundation director 2004-7) illustrated the powerful effects of music and art in promoting wellbeing and personal involvement of people living with HIV.
We were overwhelmed by demand for the anti-retro viral treatment and had to reconsider our strategy for ensuring patients’ wellbeing. Patients became ‘mikwano gyaffe’, ‘our friends’ in the local Luganda vernacular. This designation established entirely new expectations of care.
Patients participated in creative activities while they waited to be seen: singing and dancing, making crafts and painting; learning and sharing entrepreneurial skills and assisting each other with social and spiritual support.
Creative activities cut across many divisive characteristics: age, sex, language, religion, tribe, social and financial status.
From being orderly and joyless, the clinic came to life: people smiled and interacted with each other; staff smiled and were perceived as being more affable despite long clinic hours. Patients had been considered the ‘Problem’ (carrying the virus, spreading the virus, not adhering to treatment and causing resistance to antiretrovirals). ‘Our friends’ became part of the ‘Solution’; those who previously had felt stigmatized became brave enough to become change agents in their local clinics and communities.
I witnessed first-hand that these creative activities (and particularly music) contributed to great changes in individuals, in the clinic and in the community. Music for My Mind is an opportunity to engage music again; this time for dementia, another stigmatising condition, affecting both people living with this feared condition and their families.