MSF medical staff talking to a patient in Yambio [Photo credit: MSF]
By Jok Mayom
JUBA, 01 December 2016 [Gurtong]- In Yambio, in Greater Equatoria Region, things are a little different. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been running a pioneering project that aims to improve access of rural communities to testing for the deadly virus and providing care to those found to be HIV positive.
In over a year, more than 10,000 have been tested for HIV, 414 have been found HIV positive and over 330 have been initiated to life-saving treatment.
The HIV project in Yambio was launched to see if diagnosing and treating HIV at a community level is an effective way of bringing the treatment closer and faster to the patients, especially in areas that are conflict-affected or unstable security-wise with a basic health infrastructure.
The programme could be later scaled up in South Sudan and replicated in other similar environments in other countries with poor access to HIV diagnosis and treatment.
The preliminary results are encouraging. “In over a year, we have provided 336 patients with treatment. Most of them didn’t know they were HIV positive before we tested them”, explains Daniele Regazzi, project coordinator for MSF in Yambio.
“We offer screening to everybody in the locations where our mobile clinics are active. People are generally happy to be checked as in many circumstances this is the first time they have been tested” said Regazzi.
The western part of the Greater Equatoria Region has the highest HIV rate in South Sudan as it shares a porous border with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic, where HIV rates are usually higher.
In cross-border areas, infection risks can be quite high with the population being more mobile and crossing borders regularly as they go about their business and so. This was an appropriate place to launch the project as the largely rural population previously had little access to HIV treatment.
“The objective of the project is to give access to the more isolated communities. During the rainy season, it is extremely difficult for us to move in certain remote areas”, explains Regazzi.
“But that is not the only complication. The conflict has made access to some communities impossible as whole villages have fled from their homes. It is important that we make contact with them and ensure that those who need drugs get them” Regazzi adds
MSF is setting up an adaptable network amongst the villages of this area in case they are cut off. If an area becomes inaccessible, a designated community health worker from that village will be responsible to meet MSF medical teams and bring back a supply of antiretroviral drugs for patients.
“It is essential that we can guarantee the supply. An interruption of the provision of treatment against HIV can have terrible consequences on the health of a HIV-positive patient”, describes Regazzi.
The long-term plan is to make the findings known to other organizations once the test period is complete. In that way more “test and treat” projects can start helping isolated communities across Africa, said Regazzi.