Voices from the Field: Zambian HIV Project Encourages Positive Living

“Counseling gives hope that a positive client can live as long as someone who is HIV-negative.”

In the village of Hawamboli in Zambia’s Namwala District, P Moono was facing a problem at home. “My first wife was afraid to sleep with me in the same room,” he confides. Moono—who is married to two wives and has 11 children—says he and his first wife almost broke up when he tested HIV-positive, and she tested negative. His second wife tested positive. Moono wasn’t sure what to do.

Today, however, things feel a lot different for the 47-year-old. “None of us is sick and we all look healthy,” he says.

Thanks to lay counselors trained by IntraHealth International, “with continuous counseling, more information was given to us on how to protect ourselves,” Moono explains. IntraHealth is working in Namwala and three other districts—Siavonga, Gwembe and Luangwa—to increase access to confidential HIV counseling and testing through the use of lay counselors. The project is funded by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Moono praises the counselors for educating the villagers about HIV prevention, distributing condoms, and offering counseling and testing door-to-door, in the privacy of villagers’ homes. Since August 2008, IntraHealth has trained 86 volunteer counselors to provide HIV prevention messages as well as counseling and testing in their own villages. So far, the project has reached 18,403 people with HIV prevention messages and has counseled and tested 19,188 people for HIV. Of those, 1,859 have tested HIV-positive. “We thank the lay counselors for educating us on HIV prevention and positive living,” he adds.

No longer afraid to discuss his status, Moono is currently vice chairperson of an HIV/AIDS support group, one of 50 to which IntraHealth has referred people through its partnership with the Network of Zambian People Living with HIV/AIDS. This national nonprofit organization trains facilitators to run the groups and provides training skills to members on income-generating activities. An important part of continuing care for people with HIV, the groups meet weekly and focus on encouraging positive living, sharing experiences, and helping one another. IntraHealth’s lay counselors link those testing positive with a support group and follow up to promote attending the group meetings.

Moono says he gained courage to speak publicly about his HIV status because of IntraHealth’s efforts to promote positive mindsets among those who are living with the virus. The lay counselors have encouraged communities not to isolate those who are infected and have disseminated information about HIV in churches, clinics, and community gatherings. “This has helped most community members to start accepting us and giving us respect like any other person,” he explains.

Mr. Mwachiuzi, a headman in Namwala District’s Mwachiuzi village, says that his village has benefited greatly from the effort to reach rural communities where villagers have often faced difficulties reaching clinics for services. “It is the first time we are having people offering health support at our doorstep, making going to the clinic unnecessary.”

Mwachiuzi strongly recommends this door-to-door approach as it ensures that nearly everyone is reached. Also, he is pleased with other outcomes of the lay counselors’ work: “Counseling gives hope that a positive client can live longer than someone who is HIV-negative.”

Begun in 2008, the five-year project will scale up HIV counseling and testing services to two more districts— Kalomo and Sinazongwe—during its third year.