Jesuits call for more community-based HIV healthcare

Centre Espérance Loyola, Lomé, Togo (Darrin Zammit Lupi/AJAN)
Centre Espérance Loyola, Lomé, Togo (Darrin Zammit Lupi/AJAN)

Today, World AIDS Day 2015, the African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN) is backing the pleas of the people living with HIV and is calling for healthcare services at local level to address the needs they raise to be scaled-up. AJAN coordinated research among nearly 900 African people living with HIV, between late 2013 and mid-2015. They found that most of them wanted all treatment for people living with HIV to be made free-of-charge, more easily accessible and constantly available. But additionally, their research showed that food was required alongside antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), and also moral support, because there is an inseparable link between self-acceptance and seeking treatment and support.

Most respondents came from Kenya, Malawi and Zambia and the rest from South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ivory Coast and Togo. The research gauged the extent of access not only to antiretroviral therapy (ART) but also to comprehensive services that guarantee proper management of HIV and AIDS.                 

"Massive steps have been taken to make ART available to all who need but gaps still remain,” according to AJAN’s director, Fr Paterne Mombe SJ. “In this research, it is people living with HIV themselves who have told us what they need, what works for them. What emerges clearly is that they need more community-based, affordable, efficient and comprehensive delivery of healthcare services to make universal access to treatment a reality.”

Treating patients closer to home

Two-thirds of the people interviewed appeared to be happy enough with their access to ART, rating it as "good". However they cited many obstacles, especially the lack of nutritious food; the distance to reach their clinic; and understaffing and queues resulting in delays in treatment once they got there. The most pressing need to emerge, AJAN’s research found, was to have treatment closer to home. A substantial 43% said they found it difficult to reach their clinic. One-fourth said the clinic was too far away, nearly one-third said they could not afford the transport, and 10% said no transport was available at all. Nearly half said they went on foot or by bicycle - but this did not necessarily mean the clinic was close by. For some, it was three or four days away by walk. Emerging to a lesser extent was the negative attitude of some staff and people living with HIV: disrespect in the first case and self-stigma in the second.

The people AJAN interviewed called for more counselling and more information about their medication and how to live with HIV. As one said: "I count myself lucky because I found a place to get treatment and also to join a support group. People who got HIV before me were dying because of stigma but today people are informed. But more needs to be done because there is still need of information every day."

AJAN is supported by Jesuit Missions.