Voices From the Field: People Living with HIV Find New Ways to Improve Their Health

“My friends and I were affected by different opportunistic infections frequently,” says 45-year-old Yekitnesh Muluneh, who has been living with HIV for the past 15 years. “After we started to use the kit elements, the infections [have] reduced, and the people living with HIV are lead[ing] healthier and long[er] lives.

Rolling Out Preventive Care Kits

The Population Services International-led Preventive Care Package project, funded by USAID, supports the Government of Ethiopia in developing and distributing a preventative care kit (which consists of products such as water purification, de-worming tablets and bed nets) for people living with HIV in Ethiopia. IntraHealth International is training health care providers, caregivers and community health workers in the various components of the kit.

Yekitnesh, a mentor for a support group for HIV-positive mothers, participated in one of IntraHealth’s trainings. She contracted the virus from her husband, from whom she is now divorced. On antiretroviral therapy and doing well, Yekitnesh leads an active life fulfilling her duties as a mentor and managing her three children—who have all been tested and are free of HIV.

“I was trained about the kits by the project staff,” Yekitnesh notes. “After taking the training I applied it in my home, and I shared it with people living with HIV and other community members, and many of them started to use the kits.”

Training Mentors and Health Workers

The two-day training, rolled out in collaboration with the Addis Ababa Regional Health Bureau, aimed to orient providers and community health workers—who are responsible for distributing the kit locally—on the use of the kit.

In 2009, IntraHealth trained 145 mentors and community distributors, and 220 health care providers in five regions: Tigray, Amhara, Addis Ababa, Oromia and SNNPR.

A Positive Impact on Family Health

Before receiving the kit, Yekitnesh explains, “Water-borne disease infestation in the area is common so that I developed some skin rash, and the family— including me—was frequently affected by diarrheal disease.”

“I experienced skin infection on my right breast before [for] five years,” she adds, “and I was having body weakness, sleeplessness, loss of appetite and abdominal cramping periodically.”

Since using the products—in particular the PUR water purification system and soap—to improve hygiene, Yekitnesh and her other family members no longer suffer skin rashes, parasitic infections or diarrhea.

A Call for Expansion

Yekitnesh believes that the preventive care kit is very important, not only for clients on antiretroviral therapy but also for HIV-positive clients who are not yet on treatment.

“Both groups are highly vulnerable [to] opportunistic infections,” she says. However, the project cannot support giving all HIV-positive people kits, and as a result “there have been some conflicts because [of this],” she explains.

Yekitnesh strongly recommends that the three-year project continue to expand its reach. She has witnessed many clients’ health improve as a result of them using the kit.

“I would like to thank the project staff for considering [including] HIV-positive women in the basic preventive care package training program,” she says, “as women have brought changes and played a role in mitigating the impact of HIV/AIDS.”

People trained through this project become teachers at home, in the community, mosques, churches, at the market places and at workplaces in advocating for use of the kits.