Florence Tigere is in bed today. The typically vibrant 55-year-old woman, who serves as both treasurer and secretary of her HIV Sahwira Support Group, is suffering from a piercing headache. The severe pain, coupled with Florence’s swollen face and feet, has community home-based volunteer Mary Musamba concerned.
“Please take your mother to the hospital immediately,” Mary advises Florence’s 17-year-old daughter, giving her 50 cents of her personal money to pay for transport. Mary is worried Florence may have contracted a type of meningitis or possibly malaria. In either case, she needs treatment right away, especially because Florence’s immune system is already compromised by the HIV.
The importance of early medical referrals is one of the many reasons the Joint Initiative for Urban Zimbabwe (JI) — a consortium of ten non-governmental organizations (NGOs) — places a strong focus on community home-based care. The consortium, which is led by Mercy Corps, is providing HIV services to poor and vulnerable households in urban areas — including delivery of free home-based care to more than 8,578 clients in six urban areas of Zimbabwe.
The clients that are supported by the JI are often in extremely impoverished areas and usually struggle each day to put enough food on the table. “Living with HIV can compound everyday problems resulting from poverty,” explains Liliosa Musiiwa a program officer with Zimbabwe Project Trust, one of the JI local partners.
By helping to increase the skills of Community Home-Based Care volunteers and providing HIV services to those most in need, the JI is helping clients receive the lifesaving care, treatment and emotional support they need.
The JI programs accomplish this by taking an integrated client-focused approach to care and treatment, especially after the introduction of the Anti-Retro Viral (ARV) regime. Project sites prescreen program participants, ensure they live in the service area for ongoing outreach, and even train other family members to confirm drug adherence. Pretreatment classes, counseling and support groups provide additional support for those living positively.
Most importantly, however, are community outreach volunteers — dedicated community members who volunteer their time to visit the JI clients in their homes and assist in care and treatment activities. These volunteers enable the JI to add a personal touch to client care.
This community-based approach to HIV care is paying off. In Zimbabwe’s urban areas, bed-ridden clients have declined by more than 60 percent. This means that once clients enroll in the program, they are consistently coming back for follow-up appointments, picking up medications and taking them correctly — and ultimately, it means they are fighting HIV and surviving.