Community at the Heart of HIV Care: Insights from Uganda to Canada

Community at the Heart of HIV Care: Insights from Uganda to Canada

April 5, 2024
Dinah Busiku
Director National Initiatives, HIV Edmonton
Interested in contributing to the I-AM blog? Your story, ideas and insight matter. Whether you’re from a Community Based Organization, independent, or otherwise, we’d love to hear from you!
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Living with HIV can be tough, especially when it comes to accessing care. Linkage to care, which is the process of connecting people diagnosed with HIV to necessary medical support and treatment, is a crucial step for people living with HIV.

Local Voices, Global Echoes

How someone connects to care and what resources are available to them depends on where they live in the world. There are many invaluable lessons to learn from HIV treatment and care programs around the globe.

Like many countries, HIV remains a serious issue in Uganda. To simplify access to care, Uganda has put in place various initiatives to make sure people get the help they need.

From Counsellors to Mentor Mothers: A Tapestry of Support

In Uganda, involving local community groups, and making HIV pre and post-test counselling accessible through counsellors instead of doctors and nurses simplifies getting HIV care. People are trained to provide education, support, and to encourage others to test for HIV.

There are ‘mentor mothers’, peer support groups and community health workers who are often locals from the community. These folks offer information, encourage people to test, and know where to go for care.

To get more people to test, counsellors can easily order HIV tests for folks in the community. Even after testing, they support people throughout their treatment and conduct health check-ups every 3 and 6 months to check their CD4 counts and viral load.

A Unified Strategy: Health in Harmony

But advocacy and support don’t happen only at the local level. Government and non-governmental organizations conduct extensive campaigns to tackle stigma, promote testing, and raise awareness about the importance of care.

Even Uganda’s President, Yoweri Museveni is actively involved in advocacy efforts! Uganda has a national strategy for integrating HIV services with other health programs like tuberculosis, gender-based violence, and nutrition. This comprehensive approach helps address multiple health needs in one go, making it easier, less time-consuming, and more efficient for individuals to engage with healthcare services.

Bridging the Gap with Self-Test Distributors

These efforts have shown positive results, with more people getting tested and accessing treatment, and fewer HIV-related deaths. Community-based interventions, combined with continuous commitment from the government, has helped Uganda tackle some of its challenges.

In Canada, accessing HIV care can be a bit more complicated. Typically, people must go through a special kind of doctor called an infectious disease physician, and getting appointments can be challenging due to high demand. This wait time can also slow things down, especially if you need regular check-ups.

These members painstakingly distribute tests in communities

But HIV Edmonton has an innovative solution: self-test distributors. These trusted community members come from different backgrounds, such as African, Caribbean, and Black, LGBTIQ or Indigenous people. They often have lived experience with many of the challenges faced by the people they are trying to reach.

These members painstakingly distribute tests in communities, plus leave their phone numbers so people anxious about testing for HIV, or who need more information can quickly connect with HIV Edmonton for support.

This helps peoplemore confident about accessing care, especially if they test positive for an STI. Having someone from the community to talk to and get support from makes a world of difference.

Simplicity in Access: A Universal Goal

Both Uganda and Canada are committed to providing quality HIV care, albeit through different approaches.

Uganda's community-focused approach and simplified testing processes have shown promising results. Canada can learn from these initiatives and use its resources to find better ways to help everyone get the HIV care they need—no matter where they are.

Having someone from the community to talk to and get support from makes a world of difference.

It’s all about simplifying the process from testing to treatment, plus involving frontline workers who have basic training. By providing initial support from peers while waiting to see a doctor can also greatly improve access to care for people living with HIV.

So, let’s continuously work to keep things simple. And let’s always involve trusted community members all along the way. When we do, together we can make sure everyone gets the care and support they deserve!

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