How HIV self-testing, proper use of drugs pay-off to Kyela’s fishing camp

EVERY day he gets to help at least one person to regain hope and live a happy life. He is devoted to ensuring his community overcomes the spread of HIV and engages in productive activities in a health condition.

A tall, calm but charming man, Geofrey Mwakyusa (49) a resident of Kilwa village, Kajunjumele ward in Kyela District, Mbeya region is also among hundreds of thousands of people who benefited from lifesaving care delivered in the community provided by the HJF Medical Research International (HJFMRI) an international organization implementing various HIV interventions in Mbeya region including HIV testing after he learned that he is HIV positive a year ago.

Mr Mwakyusa, a fisherman told the Daily News that his job makes him meet many people from different parts of the country and that the situation has exposed him to various challenges including sexually transmitted diseases. “I have been doing this job for years at this place, we interact with many without knowing their background, and in that case, it happens we end up engaging in sex with infected people,” he noted.

Mr Mwakyusa said he first knew his HIV status after he met a Peer educator supported and empowered by HJF Medical Research International (HJFMRI) through Tumaini Community Service Organization (TCSO) services in July 2022 who always visit his Kafyofyo fishing camp to provide HIV awareness including self-testing, where he leads as a ten-house cell leader. He said the Peer educator told him about the importance of testing for HIV and taking preventive measures.

“I was educated on the importance of testing for viruses, the need to take drugs in case I am infected, and how to protect myself and others, they introduced a new thing to me and I am grateful to them,” he noted.

Mr Mwakyusa was provided with a Self-testing kits ‘Jipime’ by the Peer educator and managed to test himself at home.

“After testing, the results showed I was HIV positive, it was a difficult result for me but I took it positively because Peer educator had already prepared me to receive any kind of results,” said Mr Mwakyusa.

He added that the following day he went to Kajunjumele dispensary for confirmation by a conversational test. The results came out positive and from that point, he admitted that he was HIV positive.

However, the courageous and highly determined Mwakyusa did not lose hope, he knew exactly that being HIV positive is not an end of life. Instead, he was determined to help others in fighting the scourge.

He admits that some few years ago, his body was frail and ill, having succumbed to illnesses brought on by an immune system under attack from HIV, which he did not know by then.

Today he has committed his life to helping others who now stand where he once was. “I have been taking ARV for one year now, my health has improved and I no longer fall ill from time to time,

Mr Geofrey Mwakyusa speaks to some residents of Kafyofyo fishing camp in Kyela District. According to the Tanzania HIV Impact Survey 2016-2017 (THIS) report, Mbeya region has an HIV prevalence of 9.3 per cent, and the hot spot is in Kyela DC, Mbeya City Council, and Chunya District Council due to various economic activities.

I feel great and I am committed to help others,” he noted. Paying it forward Mr Mwakyusa told the Daily News that the Kafyofyo camp is home to more than 200 people. The number includes fishermen, bar attendants, food vendors, fishmongers, and children.

The place also receives visitors from various places including neighboring countries on both economic and social-related activities.

“Apart from fishing, I have been educating my fellow fishermen and their families to test and know their status, I am committed to ensuring this community stays safe and healthy, I started with my wife, she tested and we are all now using Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs,” he said.

He added: “So many times people fear to test because they think of stigmatization and losing their lovers, I was like that before, I thought my wife was going to leave me and the people were going to stigmatize me, but things worked differently, I got support from my wife and we agreed to encourage others to test,”

According to the Tanzania HIV Impact Survey 2016-2017 (THIS) report, the Mbeya region has an HIV prevalence of 9.3 percent, and the hot spot is located in Kyela DC, Mbeya City Council, and Chunya District Council due to various economic activities.

Through working closely with local partners and regional and council health managing Teams (R/CHMT), HJFMRI has been successfully partnering with local Community Services Organizations like TUMAINI to reduce the burden of HIV by testing people for HIV especially those in hard-to-reach areas including delivering a core package of prevention services that are vulnerability-tailored, high-quality, and client- and community-centered.

Through this facility and community-centered services, 9164 people out of 3632 targeted in Kyela District council have been reached and benefited from free HIV self-testing by accessing HIV self-testing kits delivered at their home-based and workplaces by matching heroes like Mr Mwakyusa.

“I have managed to educate and help others in this area, my house is a home to everyone who comes for advice, the free condom box is also available in my house, CBHS providers supply us with all these important things from time to time,” noted Mr. Mwakyusa Reaching teenagers in the community With the support from Peer educators, young boys and girls at Kafyofyo fishing camp have been engaged on HIV issues by giving them information and messages on key HIV topics.

“I realized that we need to protect our children, I always talk to my children regarding HIV by considering the kind of environment we live in,” he said.

Another fisherman, Mr Joseph David said he was also diagnosed with HIV a year ago. A kinetic man in his 30s narrates that he was a man of many women before testing. “I used to date many women, and I knew little about sexually transmitted diseases,” he said.

He credits the HJFMRI through Peer educator for giving education and providing him with HIV self-testing kits. “After getting education from the CBHS providers, I passed the message to my wife and she agreed to test, we are both HIV positive, but things are going well because we are taking medication,” Mr David also informed his girlfriend about his status and advised her to test.

“She was also diagnosed with HIV and she is taking ARV drugs,” he noted. He said the support is as important as the treatment, Mr David says he is committed to encourage others to test and ensure they use ARV properly.

“I understand that when you use ARV drugs properly, it reaches a point when the viruses become dormant and thus you cannot transmit them to others, but again it is safer to use protection every time,” he noted.

The Peer educator, Mr Christopher Mwakajila who works under Tumaini Community Service Organisation (TCSO) said they engage fishermen at Kafyofyo fishing camp and other areas in Kyela District on issues related to HIV. “We educate them, we advise them to test and those who are found positive, we advise them to use ARV drugs as required,” he said.

He added that they keep on testing them and make sure they use drugs properly. “We make sure they take drugs on time and effectively,” He added: “I can say that the majority of people here have received education on HIV in a positive way, however, some do not like us to visit their home in fear of stigma, they know when you visit them, neighbors connect dots and start pointing fingers at them,”

He added: “HIV Self-test has become the best way for many people in this area because they are capable of testing themselves, and when the results read positive, they contact us or go to the nearby health center for verification, they like this method more because it ensures their privacy,”. Mr David said over 50 people are using PrEP in the Kajunjumele ward.

According to the Tanzania HIV Impact Survey 2016-2017 (THIS) report, the Mbeya region has an HIV prevalence of 9.3 percent, and the hot spot is located in Kyela DC, Mbeya City Council, and Chunya District Council due to various economic activities.

The July 2023 World Health Organization (WHO) key facts show that HIV remains a major global public health issue, having claimed 40.4 million lives so far with ongoing transmission in all countries globally; with some countries reporting increasing trends in new infections when previously on the decline.

There were an estimated 39.0 million people living with HIV at the end of 2022, two thirds of whom (25.6 million) are in the WHO African Region. In 2022, 630,000 people died from HIV-related causes and 1.3 million people acquired HIV.

There is no cure for HIV infection. However, with access to effective HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and care, including for opportunistic infections, HIV infection has become a manageable chronic health condition, enabling people living with HIV to lead long and healthy lives.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button