The Test and Treat pilot in the rural county of Yambio, in South Sudan provides a community-based option for long-term Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) that can ensure people with HIV/AIDS receive consistent care in rural conflict settings. Here are some of the testimonies from Test and Treat patients.
John Augusto, Focal point for Community ART groups, HIV patient.
One of my roles as a Community ART group (CAG) focal point is to help counsel people when they hear that they are HIV positive. I explain to them that many of us live with HIV and that they are not alone in the community. Another part of the job is to visit the other members of the community CAG and make sure that they are taking their medication. From time to time HIV sufferers have to be reminded to go to see an MSF doctor.
The conflict has disrupted people’s lives. Many who previously lived closer to the roads have moved deeper into the forest to escape the fighting. At times, I will bring medicine to these isolated people if the main Test and Treat teams cannot reach them.
I keep people’s details in a big book so that we can track how they feel and the treatment they take. Every two months, we sit together as a group and discuss each other’s general conditions, and then the one whose turn it is to get the drugs will go and ask the MSF staff about our conditions. These meetings happen before we go and get the drugs and then once they are received and distributed.
I am a teacher, and after I found out that I had HIV, I took the opportunity to speak to the community. At school, I also teach the students about HIV.
Arkangelo Ruben, Community leader, Bodo
HIV is a big challenge for the community. If a person is positive or doesn’t get tested, that person will die. I believe that many people are positive, but they do not know it.
People are not afraid to come for testing since Test and Treat started in the community. Those with HIV in the community need to be tested and, those positive should be treated. Members of the community who are not positive should continue getting education and repeat the test. I usually announce at gatherings such as a church, or in markets, that people should go get tested when MSF comes.
As a community leader, I encourage those who are positive to continue treatment, and I ask the community to discourage finger pointing. Fighting has caused people to flee from their homes, and as they fled, some had no treatment.
There is not much stigma here because MSF raises awareness of the issue and educates. Before MSF came to the communities, there was no testing or treatment, people had to travel miles to town for treatment.
Nama Martin, Client and mother now living in Bodo
Things have been difficult for my family and me for a long time. I originally gave birth to 10 children, but only six are still alive. Three died from malaria, two when they were still very young. Another child died of epilepsy. My husband also died many years ago. I took on the responsibility of caring for my sister’s children when she died. I now look after 15 children.
Ten years ago I was diagnosed with HIV and began treatment shortly afterward. From then on I had to go to Yambio by foot or bicycle to collect my drugs.
The round trip would take me two full days to complete. Sometimes I would have to spend the night in Yambio. This means I was away from my family for a long time.
Now that MSF gives support directly in Bodo, it is a short walk to the MSF clinic to receive my treatment. I don’t want to have to leave my children again to make the journey to Yambio.
All photographs by Charles Atiki Lomodong