Written by Fadiala Sidibe, Executive Director ad Interim, Soutoura
Dr. Sidibe Garangué Souko was a courageous woman who was devoted to the cause of stigmatized and marginalized women. She dedicated her entire life to serving her country.
She was born on January 1st, 1954, in Fatafing, Kita, Mali.
Affectionately called “the mother” by her children; “moye” by her family; “moyekoroba” by her grandchildren and others close to her, including by her adoptive daughters, as she liked to call the sex workers; “mommy” by English-speakers; and “tanti” (auntie) by the rest. She was a big-hearted woman who was more concerned about the well-being of others than about herself.
Dr. Sidibe was passionate about gardening, as well as about her grandchildren, her family, and her nongovernmental organization (NGO), Soutoura, which she developed and for which she served as executive director. She was straightforward and direct both in her professional and social life; this was described by some as a positive trait and by others as a flaw—she said out loud what other people only whispered. She suffered in life and her success was all due to a job well done, as she often liked to say.
She came from a poor family and a mother who had been widowed with young children. She was enrolled in school at the age of eight years and placed with a host family who mistreated her. In this family, she did not eat until everyone else had already eaten and she had completed her domestic chores (grinding millet, washing the dishes, and doing the laundry). As time went on, she decided to do her best to succeed and make her mother proud.
She earned her baccalaureate in 1974 and her doctorate in 1979 from the National School of Medicine and Pharmacy in Mali. In 1993–1994, she also obtained her masters in Epidemiology at the National School of Medicine and Pharmacy in Mali.
Dr. Sidibe left Markala, Mali in 1986 to work as a general practitioner at the referral health center of Commune IV of Bamako. Through 1989, she served as joint chief of staff of the Medical Post 1 of Hamdallaye of Bamako, which was the most highly frequented center of Commune IV. She loved to rise to a challenge.
From 1990 to 1993, she was chief of staff of the Sikasso health center. After witnessing the ways by which female sex workers were stigmatized by health workers, and not granted the same access to health services that other women were, she decided to see them free of charge at their convenience. The first support she obtained was from the Swiss project Yamani and the Catholic Church of Sikasso to provide health services to sex workers and incarcerated populations.
After collaborating with the Swiss Yamani project, she decided to leave her position as chief of staff in 1995 to work as a doctor leading the health unit at the NGO Danaya, where she continued offering services for sex workers.
In August 2000, with the support of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC)/Atlanta and funding from USAID, she created her own organization, Association Soutoura, in Bamako for follow-up of sex workers, their clients, and their partners. She was one of Mali’s pioneers in providing sex workers with packages of services including prevention, treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), condom and lubricant distribution, family planning, and referrals for voluntary HIV testing, antiretroviral treatment, and income-generating activities.
Through her engagement and continuous work toward reducing the burden of stigmatization and marginalization of sex workers, she was successful in mobilizing funds that allowed Soutoura to open clinics throughout Mali and to implement HIV programs for sex workers and their clients, as well as among men who have sex with men. In 2010, Soutoura was named as a subrecipient of Groupe Pivot Santé Population of the Global Fund to offer the same package of services to sex workers in areas not covered by the other programs. Since October 2015, Soutoura has been a subrecipient of the Global Fund prime recipient Plan International to continue this programming.
Beginning in December 2016, she obtained funding from FHI 360 to expand Soutoura’s work through the USAID- and PEPFAR-supported LINKAGES project.
“My only passion in this fight is making my experience available to vulnerable populations, which is why since 1992 I have worked exclusively in the fight against STIs, HIV, and AIDS with sex workers, their clients, and men who have sex with men, family planning, and the promotion of human rights of these populations to help reduce the AIDS burden. Another source of pride is the number of jobs created by my NGO.” – Dr. Sidibe
Dr. Sidibe Garangué Souko, you dedicated your whole life to this fight. Garangué, rest in peace, may your load be light, and the all-powerful Allah accept you into his paradise for all the good that you have done for Mali, Africa, and the world. Thank you, and Soutoura will continue your good work.