Tonata gets N$32m injection

Instead of patients visiting clinics, community-based antiretroviral refill groups send a representative to collect pre-packed medicines from the nearest health facility for all group members.

28 June 2018 | Health

Tonata, an organisation for people living with HIV, has welcomed a five-year partnership agreement with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which will empower its community support groups.

This month the USAID announced a N$32 million five-year partnership with Tonata to expand community-based HIV treatment among its network of over 600 community support groups representing 17 300 Namibians living with the virus.

According to Erastus Ndilenga of Tonata, access to healthcare services, including HIV treatment, has been a challenge for people living with HIV due to the long distances they have to travel to health facilities.

He said Tonata's support group network was established in 2011, after it was realised that some people were having challenges when it came to going for follow-up visits to health facilities, due to shortage of transport money.

This resulted in non-adherence to treatment regimes, leading to many members falling gravely ill.

“This initiative produced a model for community-based ARV refill groups that Tonata adopted and is implementing in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Social Services. Tonata started expanding the delivery of ARVs to stable patients in support groups through one or two members who pick up the ARVs from the health facilities for the rest of the group members. This model is designed to take ARV delivery closer to the community and provide appropriate support to encourage the long-term retention of patients,” Ndilenga said.

He said the USAID partnership will help Tonata to scale-up the initiative to all the support groups within its selected health districts and will also to strengthen the capacity of support groups through capacity-building workshops and training, in order to make this initiative sustainable even when the funding comes to an end in 2023.

Press assistant at the United States embassy in Namibia, Jacques du Toit, said the partnership, with funding from the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), will support community-based antiretroviral treatment (ART) refill groups in the high-burden areas of north-central Namibia, in order to decrease the workload on health workers and overcrowding at health facilities, by reducing the number of visits by ART patients.

“Instead of patients visiting clinics to collect their medication, community-based ART refill groups send a representative to collect pre-packed antiretroviral medicines from the nearest health facility for all group members. This not only saves time, but also reduces transport costs and other logistical challenges, especially for minors and the elderly.

“This is crucial because in order to suppress the virus and prevent it from being spread to others, so patients can lead healthy lives, ART medicine must be taken daily,” Du Toit said.

He said Tonata, the health ministry and the US government will collaborate to expand differentiated models of care, by working with community support groups in the eight districts of Andara, Engela, Grootfontein, Nyangana, Onandjokwe, Omuthiya, Oshikuku, and Tsumeb.

Tonata means 'open your eyes' in Oshiwambo.

“Due to Tonata's experience in working hand in hand with local communities, their partnership with the USAID brings HIV treatment closer to the people - even in the most remote areas - and also helps in Namibia's fight against stigma,” said acting USAID country representative Edith Humphreys.

She said the health ministry has made significant progress in decentralising HIV services across the country, while Tonata has undertaken the special role to involve communities in promoting retention and adherence to medication, home-based follow-ups, as well as peer-led psychosocial support.

Namibia's national HIV/Aids program, with over a decade of experience, has significantly scaled up HIV treatment with good, clinical outcomes.

PEPFAR assistance supports the continuous training, mentoring and supervision of support groups to make it more convenient for stable patients to receive their medicines on their doorstep. This service is expected to grow from only 1 600 to over 37 500 ART patients across multiple regions.

The USAID has worked with Tonata on small projects since 2009 and believes that local solutions from community support groups will sustain HIV epidemic control into the future.

PEPFAR is the largest commitment ever by a single nation toward an international health initiative - a comprehensive approach to combating HIV/Aids and TB around the world. In Namibia, PEPFAR is led by the US ambassador and programmed by an inter-agency management team that includes the USAID, the Peace Corps, and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

ILENI NANDJATO

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