Voices from the Field: Project Trains Organizations To Mobilize Against HIV/AIDS and Reach People Who Need Help Most

“God guides my tomorrows. I am still strong with the help of these young students who I feel are my children,” says Asefu Tefera, who has received vital support from a school’s Anti-AIDS club trained through the USAID HIV/AIDS Care and Support Project (HCSP) in Ethiopia. IntraHealth is a partner in the project, which is led by Management Sciences for Health.

Asefu, 34, has lived through change, and she knows what it is to have been tested by life. At one point, Asefu was happily married with a young daughter. The three of them moved to Mekelle from South Wollo in hopes of finding a better income. Asefu started out as a waitress at a hotel, then changed hotels several times in pursuit of higher wages.

Ten months passed. Asefu divorced her husband, and she decided to send her daughter to her mother, whom she knew would care well for her child. Because of the social discrimination she believed she would face due to the social stigma of being divorced, she did not want to go back to her own family herself, so she continued to work in different bars and hotels to make ends meet.

Eight months passed. Asefu became very sick—so sick, she was bed-ridden. But her illness did not go unnoticed by one person who had been trained on how to recognize HIV/AIDS. Meaza, 24, owned the house in which Asefu rented a room. Meaza is an orphan—she lost her parents to AIDS. She rents rooms out of her home to support her two brothers and herself, including paying for education. Meaza was a student at Ayder junior school and had attended sensitization sessions by the Anti-AIDS Club members of her school and “Mirkuz,” another youth anti-AIDS club. These clubs were trained by HCSP.

HCSP aims to rapidly expand comprehensive HIV/AIDS clinical, care and support services at health centers and at the community level in Ethiopia. It operates in five regions: Oromia, Addis Ababa, SNNPR, Tigray and Amhara.

IntraHealth is charged with HCSP’s prevention component, which works to create awareness of the voluntary counseling and testing, prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and antiretroviral treatment services available at the health centers in communities, as well as to disseminate HIV prevention information to community members. IntraHealth works with local nongovernmental organizations that train principals, teachers and parents as well as community groups—including student and youth clubs such as the ones from which Meaza had received information—about HIV.

Meaza turned to the clubs for help. Soon members came to Asefu’s room with Meaza, and they took Asefu to the Mekelle Health Center for testing—where she was found to be HIV-positive—and treatment.

With the help of an HCSP community mobilizer and a community outreach worker, a fundraising event for Asefu raised more than 2,000 birr. The clubs conveyed messages through dramas and songs, making Asefu the center of focus. The outreach worker and community mobilizer took her to the Organization of Social Support for AIDS, a local nongovernmental organization, to access nutritional support for a period of six months. Asefu continued her antiretroviral treatment as the clubs—in partnership with the community mobilizer and outreach worker—helped Asefu by working with the community for her food and clothing, and for help washing her clothes and rendering other services.

Asefu has told her personal testimony at different gatherings; people have learned a lot from her. Her story exemplifies the power of a community—when mobilized and prepared to fight HIV/AIDS—to act on behalf of a person and change a life.