Africa: Erasing HIV Stigma Together
April 9, 2007
As HIV continues to ravage sub-Saharan Africa, where 26 million currently have HIV, support groups founded and run by patients are offering those infected hope and camaraderie. Francis Collins, program manager for the advocacy group Network of Persons Living with HIV/AIDS (NAP+) in Ghana, said patients are more comfortable discussing their issues with other patients. "They have common problems, a common vision and a common mission," he said.
Ghana had only one support group in 2001; now it has nearly 200. Kenya has more than 300 such groups, Uganda 400, according to NAP+, which has national affiliations in 50 African countries.
The support groups, typically with several dozen members, meet a few times a month; promote positive living; and provide a sense of community, counseling and income-generating activities, Collins said. They also complement formal health services by functioning as an organizing hub for financial aid, food donations and government-subsidized medicine. Group leaders attend workshops and health professionals are invited to speak to the groups to ensure that members receive accurate information.
Ghanaian Lucy Mensah, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1999, founded in 2002 Women United Against AIDS in Ghana, which now has 70 members. Mensah won an international award for her courageous leadership from the Oslo-based Letten Foundation in 2004.
Because even successful support clinics suffer from a lack of professional staff for effective management and fundraising, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) need to help support groups in those areas, according to Bernice Heloo, executive director of Ghana-based NGO Pro-Link. "I see it as a division of labor," she said. Governments provide medicine, handle logistics and provide medical facilities; patients form and run support groups; and NGOs build support groups' capacity to thrive, Heloo explained.
Newsday (New York)
04.04.07; Justin Moresco