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Foot soldiers at work

As part of the Community Systems Strengthening (CSS) capacity building programme, NACOSA has trained three learners from each of 32 community based organisations in the Eastern Cape in HIV Testing Services through the NACOSA Training Institute. This accredited ten day training includes finger-prick testing after which learners have to do 10 HIV tests under the supervision of a qualified nurse. Learners who received their finger prick certificates were linked up with health facilities in their area to provide additional capacity for clinics to reach their testing targets.

Forty-five minutes’ drive out of East London on the R72 lies Mpongo Village. This is the home of Zanoncedo Empowerment Centre, one of the organisations that benefited from the capacity building programme. Three of their carers, Philiswa Yangapi, Ntombina Mdistshwa and Busisiwe Diniso were part of the group trained in HIV Testing Services. After successfully completing their finger-prick testing at the Mpongo Clinic and receiving their certificates, they were co-opted by the clinic to do HIV testing on Tuesdays and Thursdays when pregnant women are seen at the clinic. Sister Phindiwe Nkatshase, the sister in charge at Mpongo Clinic, shared her appreciation for the additional capacity created by the training of the Zanoncedo carers:

“We are very happy with their services as they are helping us to increase our testing services in our area. They also assist in tracing HIV and TB defaulters in the community.”

The three trained carers also provide testing services in the surrounding villages such as Tsaba, Xhameni, New Rest and Gqala. Before entering a village, Zanoncedo Management will engage with the headman or chairperson of the village to obtain permission for the team to work in the community. This engagement with the community leadership is necessary to ensure buy-in, approval and support. The testing services in the villages comes with a lot of commitment and sacrifice. The carers sometimes have to walk up to two hours along winding pathways, across rivers, hills and valleys to reach their destination.

The organisation bought cool boxes and ice packs to carry test kits and other equipment. These boxes are carried along by the dedicated carers as they make their way to the villages. Because they have the approval of the leadership in the village, they go from door to door doing awareness, providing information and offering HIV testing services. The test kits and other equipment are provided by the clinic along with the registers to ensure data is properly captured. The test results are recorded and submitted to the clinic where it is captured on the system.

The fight against HIV, TB and STIs is a multifaceted strategy. While some are doing research and others are designing strategic interventions, it is these foot soldiers such as Philiswa and Ntombina that ensure that strategies are being implemented and that in the end 90% of people living with HIV will know their status.

By Sydney Davis, Eastern Cape Provincial Manager