Aids centre cuts HIV stigma in communities

WORLD Aids Day is celebrated around the globe on December 1 to raise awareness about the HIV/Aids pandemic. On this day, people around the world unite in remembering those who have died from HIV/Aids.

It is an opportunity to show support, care, patience and love to those living with HIV with the aim of empowering people with the knowledge that HIV/Aids can be beaten. Those who are living with it can live a full productive life and those without it can remain negative.

World Aids Day is commemorated to restore hope to the victims of HIV/Aids and to pay tribute to those who have succumbed to the disease.

Local organisations and NGO’s that deliver health services to the people have a responsibility to educate and give hope and support to the victims of HIV/Aids.

Umvoti Aids Centre in Greytown delivers all aspects of healthcare and support to the people infected and affected by HIV/Aids.

General manager Sithuthukile Mchunu told Greytown Gazette: “We recently have graduated 160 grade eight and nine pupils of Buhlebuyeza Secondary on the Yolo (You Only Live Once) initiative in partnership with the Department of Social Development, which is aimed at empowering the youth with the necessary social skills in order to reduce risky sexual behaviour which exposes young people to HIV.”

Mchunu said Umvoti sub-district facilitated the module called “My body, My life, My Choice”, which entails teaching pupils about HIV/Aids.

A team from the centre visited rural schools in Msinga; including Busani High, Mgwempisi Combined, Ophathe Primary, Siphakeme Combined, and Mashingizela High. More than 5 200 pupils attended the programme where they were taught about sexually transmitted infections, prevention of teenage pregnancy, gender based violence, and personal hygiene.

Mchunu said: “Elma programme in uMshwati sub-district is a programme funded by the Aids Foundation of South Africa (Afsa) aimed at expanding HIV prevention, HIV testing services, TB screening, malnutrition, and linkage into ART for children and adolescents between the ages of 18 months to 19 years.

“We are running Adherence Clubs in uMshwati sub district which are aimed at promoting adherence to ART for people living with HIV and providing opportunities for support systems and a platform for continued education on HIV management. Those who are living with it can live a full productive life and those without it can remain negative.”

Considering the high HIV prevalence in adolescent girls, the centre participated in an initiative by Health Systems Trust early this year.

“It is important to balance the education, awareness, and prevention in all spheres of the community. Afsa Dreams was aimed at adolescent girls and women between the ages of 13 to 24,” Mchunu said.

The aim of the programme is to provide support, education, and assistance to those affected and infected by the HIV pandemic in Umvoti sub-district.

This programme provides a place of safety for abuse victims, nutrition, school uniforms, food parcels, clothing, identification documentation, grant facilitation, and referral to relevant government departments.

The centre also tries to bridge the gap between rural and urban communities by conducting outreach programmes in rural villages to educate the community about HIV/Aids prevention.

Mchunu said: “Adherence clubs, support groups, and HIV testing services in Umshwati are daily programmes so the teams commute to those areas daily. We are often part of school initiatives. We therefore work in all 14 wards of Umvoti.”

However, education on HIV/Aids prevention has not yet reached out to many rural communities.

Mchunu added: “There is still a lot to be done in order to reach the deepest of rural areas in order for them to have access to vital health services. The Department of Health is engaging a community-based model which is designed to take health care to the people.

“NGO’s like Umvoti Aids Centre are designed to bridge that gap that still exists. This can only be done with partnerships between the Department of Health, the municipalities [local and district], NGO’s and businesses, especially for Umzinyathi District.”

She said the centre is working closely with all stakeholders in Umzinyathi District in order to attain the goal set by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation Address early this year of scaling up the testing and treating campaign for HIV/Aids by initiating an additional two million people on anti-retroviral treatment by December 2020.

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