A novel approach to fight HIV

A novel approach to fight HIV

MAFETENG – For many people living with HIV/AIDS, religiously collecting medication from hospital and strictly adhering to timetables can be a challenge, especially for those who are too ill to walk long distances to hospitals. Mafeteng Hospital, which has been working hard to ensure adherence to treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS, has come up with a solution – support groups.

At least 238 men have turned up for the programme with over 600 women also participating, thanks to the support group that encourages testing in the villages.
The hospital is now specialising mainly with Community Art Groups (CAG). These are groups of a maximum of 12 patients, who come together to ensure they have each other’s backs.
According to a nurse at Elizabeth Glaser Paediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), Liboti Rapapa, each group sends one person to collect medication on behalf of the other group members each month.

This ensures that even those who cannot walk will be able to receive their medication.
The representative is usually the one who is said to be a stable user of medication or one who adheres more than others.
“When they come to the hospital, he or she is screened for Tuberculosis, STDs and other diseases which may have occurred,” Rapapa said.

Rapapa said one major reason for forming these groups is for patients to provide each other with psychosocial support and enhance adherence.
Another reason behind the establishment of these groups was to address the stigma and pressures that many people associate with collecting medication at hospitals.
Rapapa said the groups have been key to helping patients support each other and fight stigma.
There are 139 Community Art Groups in Mafeteng districts.

The CAG were implemented in 2016 after the Test and Treat campaign.
Many people joined because they had been coming for check-ups before and they were used to seeing and interacting with each other.

Currently in Lesotho, an estimated 314 000 people are living with HIV, including 12 000 adolescents.
Each year, around 2 000 new HIV infections occur among adolescent males and females.
However, EGPAF is working to bring that number to zero.
EGPAF’s mission is to end paediatric HIV and AIDS through HIV prevention, care, and treatment programme implementation; advancing research and innovation; and engaging in global advocacy.

It launched its Adolescent and Young People’s HIV Strategy to ensure all adolescents (10-19 years) and young people (15-24 years) living with HIV in Lesotho lead healthy and productive lives.
Also, all HIV-negative adolescents and young people are empowered, equipped with skills and knowledge, and have the services and support needed to remain HIV-negative.
By 2020 the strategy aims to reduce the number of new infections among adolescents and young people by 50 percent with 90 percent of those on antiretroviral therapy (ART) will be virally suppressed.

Le Coop Health Centre in Mafeteng also offers men’s clinic services.
According to Kamohelo Leroba, a nurse, men often hesitate to seek health services due to long queues in hospitals. However, at this clinic they have adopted a fresh approach.
Leroba said they offer all male services from 7:30AM to 17:00PM on week days and they are planning to accommodate men who book appointments so that they can be attended even after work.
“Since the inception of this clinic, attendance has been really good,’’ he said.

Although women are disproportionately affected by HIV in Lesotho (30 percent versus 19 percent), by the age of 35-39, the prevalence gap between genders narrows significantly.
Men in Lesotho are less likely to get tested for HIV and therefore less likely to be identified as HIV-positive and linked to care and treatment services.
According to EGPAF only 71 percent of males know their status compared to 81.5 percent females.

Adult males are less likely to be reached by provider-initiated and community based HIV testing approaches widely used in Lesotho.
The majority of middle-aged and mobile men rarely visit clinics and are not usually at home at the time of community-based testing campaigns.
Even when sick, men often present late to access clinical care. Although they are less likely to utilise traditional health facility-based HIV-services, they account for a significant proportion of new female counterparts. EGPAF is currently scaling up the men’s health programme to all 10 districts in Lesotho.

Tokase Mphutlane

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