George himself has been living with HIV for close to 10 years now, and has been on anti-retroviral therapy for three years.
He was trained by AMREF as a counsellor and peer educator, and spends his days talking to those who come to the centre for HIV testing and treatment, as well as in the community, where he presents himself as a role model of positive living.
George is one of 23 community health workers attached to the Kibera clinic who go out to the community every day to encourage people who are ill to get tested and treated. They also visit clients who are on ARVs to see how they are doing, to discuss side-effects because ARVs affect individuals differently, and to answer any questions they may have.
“Many people hesitate to go for testing because of stigma and discrimination, yet VCT is the entry point to ART. We educate the community and encourage people to come and seek VCT services, which are offered free of charge at the centre,” says George.
George visits people like Naomi who lives in Kibera too. She is not on ARVs because her CD4 count is quite high. She gets vitamin supplements and co-trimoxazole at the health centre, where she also attends group therapy for people living with HIV. Her youngest son, Ian, 9, has the virus, but he too has a high CD4 count and is not on ARVs. Still, she has gone through a treatment literacy programme run by AMREF for PLWHAs, which includes instructions on proper use of ARVs, side-effects, nutrition and basic counselling skills. Now the cheerful and talkative Naomi is able to approach other sick people and encourage them to go for testing.
“We [community health workers] provide home-based care when we visit. But because we cannot be with the clients all the time, we encourage family members and close friends to provide care like cooking for those that are sick, bathing them, and help out with chores like washing clothes,” explains George. “Importantly, we ensure that everyone takes their medicine on time.”
“We are like one big family,” says George of the people who have been reached through AMREF’s HIV community health programme. He explains that group therapy, treatment literacy training and involvement of family members and close friends as primary care givers have greatly increased the uptake of testing and ART enrolment in Kibera, and resulted in high treatment adherance levels.