Mobile Counseling Teams Help Stem the Spread of HIV/AIDS among Uganda’s Nomads
These roving counselors have been visiting the Karimojong for about a year now as part of an IRC program designed to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in the region. It’s a novel approach in which voluntary counseling and testing for HIV are done at home instead of in clinics.
IRC program manager James Wanyama says, “We developed the home-based approach when we learned that very few Karimojong showed up for HIV counseling and testing at the government health facilities in the area.” Wanyama believes that this low turnout may be due to the nomadic lifestyle of the Karimojong, which makes it difficult for them to visit local clinics and make appointments. “We needed to design a program that was more in line with their way of life,” he says.
On the first visit to a Karimojong family’s home, each IRC counselor talks about general health education and asks for permission to visit the family again at a later date. Once a schedule is set, a two-member team is sent out to each village with rapid testing kits and reporting tools designed to withstand hot weather and rough travel and provide accurate results.
The counselors usually make two visits per week and have counseled around 3,000 people. And since the program started last March, Wanyama says, the team members have been successful in keeping in touch with the people they have already counseled. “The Karimojong stay in large enclosures, home to many families, and possibly this has made mobilization a bit easier.” he says.
Manned by 19 volunteers and two HIV/AIDS program supervisors, and funded by USAID, the program serves some 700,000 people living in three districts in the Karimoja region.
This year, the program will be expanded to cover conflict-ravaged areas in the Kitgum-Acholiland region of northern Uganda. Wanyama says that by adding 25 new volunteer counselors, the IRC will be able to move “hut to hut” to assist almost 2 million internally displaced people who are living in refugee camps in the area.