WINDHOEK – The Total Control of the Epidemic (TCE) fieldworkers, who are part of the Development Aid from People to People (DAPP), daily endure harsh weather conditions.
TCE fieldworkers walk door-to-door testing people for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Although, the circumstances under which they work are not always easy, TCE fieldworkers are determined to have as many people tested for HIV as possible.
So far, close to 8 000 people were tested in Windhoek between last March and December. Although, TCE fieldworkers in the northern regions of the country have been testing people for Windhoek, this only became a reality in March 2014.
The fieldworkers go into the communities to test people for HIV from Monday to Thursday. TCE programme co-ordinator for the Khomas Region, Thomas Iitungu, says they mainly focus on testing people who live in informal settlements.
“We try to focus on the highly populated areas because if you go to Windhoek North and those areas the people will tell you that they have private doctors. The services are much more needed here,” elucidates Iitungu.
Iitungu further states: “You can see how people are living here. Sometimes, it’s not even easy for them to buy relish, so it would not be easy to get money to take a taxi to the nearest health facility. So, in that regard it is an advantage.”
The majority of those who are tested are between the ages of 18 to 49. Minors, he says, are tested with the consent of their parents.
New Era last Thursday accompanied Iitungu and some fieldworkers to Havana and Okuryangava where they were testing people in the communities for HIV.
Iitungu says there are 80 fieldworkers, who are working in pairs. He adds that TCE works in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Social Services (MOHSS), who are responsible for providing the HIV testing kits.
But, how confidential are these services?
“Like at health facilities, confidentiality is still applicable, it’s just that people in the communities no longer need to walk to the health centres where there are usually long queues,” he explains.
According to Iitungu, people who cannot afford to take taxis save money as they are tested in the comfort of their homes.
In addition, the rapid testing kits are kept in a cooler bag with ice packs which the fieldworkers walk around with in the various locations. “This is to ensure that the test kits are not exposed to sunlight. If they are exposed to sunlight the results may not be valid,” he said.
Furthermore, he explains that the fieldworkers, who are also referred to as volunteers, fieldwork from 08h00 to 15h30 because they have to take back the testing kits to be locked up at the clinics.
“They don’t go with the kit home because it contains people’s confidential information,” adds Iitungu.
New Era observes the fieldworkers attracting the attention of community members.
“They are testing people for AIDS,” remarks one community member. There were also those who make remarks such as ‘AIDS’. “That is one of the challenges,” Iitungu reacts to the remark.
But, he maintains his calm and rather focusses on the positive side of the service.
“Sometimes you go to someone’s house and they are unwelcoming and refuse to be tested. Yet, after a month you will find the same people who refused asking to be tested,” says Maria Nashilongo, a fieldworker in Moses Garoëb Constituency.
Nashilongo has been testing people for HIV in the community since last year.
“The challenge is with people who test HIV positive. They take long to go to the health facilities where we refer them to access (ARVs) antiretroviral treatment,” Nashilongo says.
“Some people do not want us to test them. They tell us that they prefer to be tested at clinics,” says Sarafina Amunyela. But, many consent to be tested and they normally remark: “We do not have to endure the long queues at health facilities”.
“We walk in pairs and we each set a target of at least testing six people. There are times when we exceed our target and other times we do not accomplish our set target,” explains Amunyela.
“It’s important for people to be tested in the community because they do not have to walk long distances to access such services,” a young man, who was tested for HIV yesterday, remarked.
The relationship between the community and the fieldworkers is an established one, opines Iitungu. According to him, the relationship started before they even started testing people for HIV.
This, he explains, is because the community testers previously worked as mobilisers, where they encouraged people to get tested for HIV at health facilities.
“Everyone is testing in the area where they already worked as mobilisers,” he adds.
He notes that although, generally people are motivated to get tested for HIV, the majority who are tested are women.
He further explains that it is because most of the women in informal settlements are unemployed, as a result they are at home most of the time.
“We don’t find men at their homes because they go to work,” Iitungu says.
“It’s important for people to get tested because early diagnosis is important. People should not wait until they get sick to get tested,” says Iitungu
Monalisa Koreses, a Havana resident, says: “It’s good that we have people walking from house to house to test people for HIV, as many people do not know their status. Some people are sick and they don’t even know it. So, if they are tested and they are positive maybe they will stop having multiple sexual partners.”