The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted the normal life of people living with HIV. The access to regular HIV services including access to care and treatment centers, adherence to ART and psychosocial support provided through peer education has been impacted during the pandemic. Amidst double pandemic, Young women living with HIV who must take care of their babies are overly affected due to disruption of their economic activities, increased fear to attend clinics which resulted to poor adherence to ARVs, and mental health issues.
Rehema (22 years old), confirmed living with HIV since 2015 she is not married and she is mother of the only son 8 years old who is not infected with HIV. She earns her living as a petty trader of second-hand clothes “mitumba” in Dar Es Salaam City. She is a member of network of young people living with HIV (NYP+) and peer educator at Ubungo municipal working closely with HIV Care and Treatment centre at Magomeni Health facility. As a peer educator, Rehema has a duty to sensitize and encourage young people to access HIV services and continues support treatment adherence by providing client-centered skills building sessions at group level.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Rehema and many other young people were impacted in several ways. Rehema had to discontinue attending empowerment group meetings and stopped her peer education role. Her petty business was seriously affected. She lost her clients and others disappeared with a lot of money. Eventually Rehema lost her capital, failed to adhere to ART, and she was unable to access healthy food.
“We were temporarily laid off as Peer Educators by MDH which led to the loss of our monthly stipend for at least 3 months. Some of my fellow Peer Educators’ services were terminated completely even after the pandemic had eased. Both clients and vendors tended to believe that COVID-19 affected urban areas only and that if they ran to rural areas or their place of domicile they will be safe, thus the lack of enough clients to cater for our meager businesses” … says Rehema
In responding to the effect of the pandemic among people living with HIV, NACOPHA and NYP+ with the support from UNICEF implemented a humanitarian project for provision of personal protection equipment’s, education on COVID-19 and Psychosocial support to children, adolescents and women living with HIV. The support aimed to enhance adherence to HIV care and treatment among people living with HIV in 5 regions of Tanzania mainland.
Rehema was among the participants engaged in the program. She received COVID-19 prevention knowledge, reusable face masks, soap, and water bucket for her to be able to work as peer educator.
“I have benefited from their education as I am living well and continue with my daily life while preventing myself from COVID-19; As of now, I am living without fear of negative news from the media, not scared of falling sick from both COVID-19 and HIV-related illnesses. I am now in good health.” … says Rehema
The knowledge gained from the project enabled Rehema to continue with peer education role. She also continues to provide COVID-19 prevention education at her CTC, family, and friends around her society.
Rehema says; … “I am grateful that the support provided to me and other people living with HIV renewed my confidence, treatment adherence and the important role I play to my fellow youths”
With UNICEF support, NACOPHA and NYP+ reached 3,000 children, adolescents and women living with HIV in five regions of Tanzania mainland. The participants were reached with COVID-19 education and provided with hygiene kits which included bar soap, washable/reusable masks, and water buckets. 1,000 members of NYP+ received psychosocial support and awareness trainings on COVID-19. Furthermore, a total of 200,000 adolescents and women living with HIV reached with COVID 19 prevention messages and appropriate information to dispel myths through social media, radio, and TV programs.