Fighting HIV/AIDS through awareness and treatment
Virginia Kamonji arrived in Rumbek in July as a UN Volunteer to help the Government in fighting HIV and Tuberculosis. With support through the Global Fund to Fight AIDs, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM), she has been working hard on multiple fronts to raise awareness, reduce stigma and improve access to HIV care and treatment.
In South Sudan HIV/AIDS is a significant problem affecting many communities. The available data suggests the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate is three percent for the country, with Lakes state at two and a half percent. However, this data may not be conclusive, due to small sample sizes and differences in testing methodology. Therefore, it is probable that the percentage of people with HIV/AIDS is higher, which presents additional challenges for people working on HIV/AIDS issues in South Sudan. This lack of data combined with little knowledge about the disease among the population, make it difficult to implement the needed systems and strategies. “HIV and AIDS awareness is exceptionally low and there is a lot of stigma attached with HIV/AIDS so most people can’t talk about it freely” said Virginia.
Virginia began working on HIV/AIDs issues in 2003 as an HIV counsellor in her native Kenya and gained experience on increasing awareness and understanding of the disease. “I also did a lot of volunteer work and I wanted both to gain from a new experience as well as share my skills with others.” She has applied these skills to her new community. To address the lack of awareness and reduce the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, Virginia collaborated with the Diocese of Rumbek, which runs Marpoudit Hospital and Radio Good News, to create messages and educational programming on HIV/AIDS targeting local communities.
Currently, Virginia is assisting the community in forming a support group to help those who are living with the HIV/AIDS as she realized that it can be difficult for people who have HIV/AIDS; they can feel isolated and lose hope. In a few short months, the clinic has noticed a difference. More people are coming in to the two clinics to access information, “Our clinics used to see maybe one or two people per month looking for information and in the last month 16 people already came in” said Virginia. “It is slow but we are making change.”
To ensure that increased awareness translates into better services and a healthier community, Virginia set up a referral system for NGOs that are carrying out various HIV awareness activities in the community to refer HIV positive individuals to the state hospital in Rumbek or the Marpoudit ART (anti-retroviral therapy) clinic. These clients not only receive treatment but also counselling on positive living and treatment adherence.
Another major challenge in Lakes state was the lack of a reliable supply chain system mainly due to infrastructure problems like roads and poor communications. As a result, medications were not arriving on time. She used her M&E experience combined with her Masters’ in Education and Economics to work with the state Ministry of Health in implementing a system that would track and monitor supplies. She also trained health centre employees to manage the stock, fill requests to order drugs from a central warehouse, determine channels of distribution of the medicines, and develop a method to alert the clinics when stocks are low. This has helped reduce health problems in the community as patients can access medication on a continuous basis. Lart Panthian a clinical officer in Rumbek state hospital was very positive about this new change. ”Actually we no longer have issues of expired drugs; this has reduced wastage to minimal amounts. We can project the amount of drugs we need in a quarter by monitoring the stock levels in the pharmacy.”
Currently there are a total of 340 clients enrolled in the ART clinics who receive drugs on a continuous basis , “I am grateful to UNDP for providing us technical assistance in Lakes state in the form of Virginia, a Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist” said Paul Komakech , a Clinical Officer in Marpoudit ART centre. “Our capacity has been strengthened and we no longer suffer from a shortage of drugs. Now we are thinking out of the box to ensure patients can receive treatment all the time.”