Asres Bako is Chairman of the Andinet (Unity) Association for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA) in South Omo, Ethiopia. Andnet was the first PLHA association to be set up in South Omo, seven years ago.
At that time, there was a low awareness of HIV in the community, and there was a lot of stigma and discrimination. Only 10 men and seven women joined the organisation, as it was hard for people to reveal themselves to the community. Amref Health Africa has enabled us to grow and expand our impact.
Now, there are 110 male and 183 female members. With the support of Amref Health Africa, we have been able to form a zonal network for other PLHA associations and support them . Even some new groups have been set up with the support of Andinet and Amref Health Africa, e.g in Salamago and Dassenach Woredas.
We have been able to set up an annual forum for the groups to come together and share ideas and best practice. This year, the chief administrator of South Omo attended the forum (which was funded by DFID) and agreed to support us financially.
Our day-to-day activities are to educate the community about HIV prevention, VCT, PMTCT and to reduce stigma and discrimination. We use all social gatherings to educate the community, and the local government also invites us to speak at events.
We also try to improve the livelihood of our members through income generating activities (IGA). This is very important – some of our members had to stop taking their ART medication, because they had no food. Those who are bed-ridden are unable to earn money for themselves. Activities include making injera, buying grain from rural towns and selling it on, planting trees to sell. The income that is generated from these activities has changed our members’ lives – they can now take their ART drugs, support their children and pay their rent.