Meet Geoffrey who has inspired many lives through adherence support clubs
Stigma and discrimination also makes people vulnerable to HIV. Those most at risk to HIV (key populations) continue to face stigma and discrimination based on their actual or perceived health status, race, socioeconomic status, age, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity or other grounds.
Stigma and discrimination manifests itself in many ways. Discrimination and other human rights violations may occur in health care settings, barring people from accessing health services or enjoying quality health care. Some people living with HIV and key populations are shunned by family, peers and the wider community, while others face poor treatment in educational and work settings, erosion of their rights, and psychological damage. These all limit access to HIV testing, treatment and other HIV service. Here is Geoffrey’s story on how he has used adherence groups to address adherence, stigma and discrimination among MSM in Mukono district.
Geoffrey Mukasa usually referred to by community members as Kojja (local name for the word uncle) stays in a village called Nakisunga in Mukono district. He is a professional driver. Stigma and discrimination of being MSM and HIV positive almost kept him in the closet.
“I was diagnosed with HIV in 2014, that time I was unemployed I had self-stigma before we talk about the stigma and discrimination from the community people. I was very hopeless and alone. I was referred to the nearest health Centre for HIV services but I refused to go there because I knew the health workers there were part of the people that pointed at us, especially after the death of David Kato since he used to stay here with us.
To cut the story short I later got the courage and decided to pick my drugs from Naguru Teenage Centre a facility that has provided me with stigma free services.” Geoffrey explains.
Last year Spectrum Uganda with funding from the DEG project supported the formation of adherence support groups. The main objective of the adherence groups is to improve retention/adherence of the identified HIV positive MSM into care.
Adherence support clubs where established for HIV positive MSM in Mukono. So far four groups have been formed with a membership of 5-6 people. These groups meet once a month in the community for at least two hours to discuss health related issues. They are able to follow-up on drug adherence; discuss any challenges and diverse ways of addressing these challenges.
“Members listen to Geoffrey very much it was for that reason that we brought him on board to support the groups. Before members had a mentality of not testing for HIV because they feared and there was no hope for those who turned up positive but these groups have given them new hope.” Paul a peer educator elaborates.
“Through these groups I have been able to use my HIV situation to provide information on adherence and they listen to me. I remember there was a member who became very sick and was bedridden I went to visit him and encouraged him to test for HIV; he first refused but later accepted. He tested HIV positive and I encouraged him to take his drugs like I do. The member is now very ok; he is part of the adherence groups.” Geoffrey explains
“These meetings provide an avenue for information dissemination. I encourage members to have their partners test too. I sensitize them on positive living, how to be confident and demand for HIV services. We talk about issues of stigma and discrimination and how to overcome it like keeping low profiles. Today all group members work to earn a living unlike before.” Geoffrey explains
“If a member needs help, like transport to collect drugs from the hospital, the group comes together to offer the necessary support. They will give that member transport money or even use another member’s motorcycle to ensure that this person is transported to and out of the facility.” Geoffrey explains
“We are grateful to spectrum through Community Health Alliance Uganda for this support. Each member who tests HIV positive is linked to the group we are facilitated to meet every month and they have provided us with some nutritional support in form of food staff.”
Author: Gracie Nakazzi