All-Out Effort to Fight HIV/AIDS Epidemic

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By Wezi Tjaronda ONGWEDIVA Total Control of the Epidemic (TCE), a non-governmental organization that empowers people with information with which to prevent and fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic, has taken the Northern Regions by storm. Built on the premise that only people can liberate themselves from the epidemic, the group has so far reached 731ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 people since its inception in September 2005 with HIV-related information. Dressed in red T-shirts and black berets, TCE’s 450 fieldworkers each have 1ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 200 people to impart HIV/AIDS-related information to. Difficult as it is to disseminate information, especially to the rural folk, the fieldworkers say they have managed to make some inroads especially to introduce the use of condoms in rural areas. The non-governmental organization, a department of Humana and a member of the Development Aid from People to People (DAPP), has developed a liberation system to be put in place in Africa in order to gain total control of the epidemic. The orgnization was first implemented in Zimbabwe six years ago and was later implemented in Botswana. The project challenges individuals to change the course of the epidemic by doing things differently by, among others, changing their behaviour patterns. TCE fieldworkers visit each and every household and talk to the people, educate them, inform them and mobilize them to rally behind the HIV/AIDS campaign. Maria Malwa, a member of the special force of the TCE, from the Kavango region, is proud to be associated with the project she feels has brought lots of changes to rural masses. When it just started, people knew about the epidemic but were not making much use of the services being offered such as Voluntary Testing and Counselling Services. Now, Malwa says, people are queuing up at the VCT centres in most of the areas. “People were refusing to go for testing” said Malwa, “yet they looked very sick and, as a result, could not be enrolled for AntiRetroviral Therapy. “Some of them did not want fieldworkers to visit their homes especially when their messages would involve condoms,” said Malwa. Malwa, who is with the Special Field Force for the Kavamgo Region, has an experience of men who have walked away not wanting to listen to HIV/AIDS-related information and who have stopped expectant wives from being tested. “They say, I am healthy and I am not positive,” she added. The task of the fieldworkers involves walking from house to house, person to person, again and again, until everyone has been reached and mobilized. They assist individuals to reduce their risk of infection with HIV by giving them relevant information according to their age group, like children under 15 years, adults and expectant mothers. The fieldworkers also refer people for VCT, Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission, and AntiRetroviral Therapy. In the field in which they work, field officers also promote individual sexual behaviour change, positive living, healthy eating, abstinence and condom-use where relevant. Alfred Besa, the Corps Commander or the TCE Project Coordinator in Namibia, says the field officers are the backbone of the project as they do all the work. TCE Namibia started in August 2005 in conjunction with the Ministry of Health and Social Services along the lines of the Medium Term Plan 111 on HIV/AIDS. It is funded by the Global Fund and also the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. “People have accepted the project,” says the Zambian-born Besa. He said already the leadership in Kavango Region wants the project to be implemented throughout the whole region, unlike the six constituencies which are covered now. Where many people have tested positive, the field officers etablish support groups for people living with the virus to encourage each other, which woud enable them to live positively. In the five regions, TCE has reached over 730ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 people, has distributed 2.7 million condoms, has mobilized more than 9ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 200 pregnant mothers for PMCTP and also 13ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 585 people to get tested for HIV. Besa said that the TCE worked well in countries such as Namibia and Botswana where there is a strong support system regarding ARV, testing and home-based care. Namibia has rolled out ARV with 22ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 patients on ARVs, and many districts have voluntary testing services available, which Besa says has helped the programme. “As field officers, they rely in he strength of available programmes,” Besa added. TCE wants to reach all Namibians and, as a result, the organization is looking for partners to help the programme to run its timeframe of three years. In the regions where the project is operating, Besa says, “After three years, everyone will have been mobilized. They will know where to find VCT services and will have learned to deal with the consequences of AIDS and to take control of their lives.”