Raising HIV awareness, decreasing stigma in South Sudan

HIV/AIDS
A doctor providing HIV counseling and testing to a woman in Rumbek, Lakes State, South Sudan. Photo: UNDP in South Sudan / Marguerite Nowak

Alice* was recently widowed, left on her own with four young children. She was also pregnant and had fallen ill, so she visited her local hospital. There, testing revealed she had both HIV and tuberculosis (TB). While her father took care of the children, Alice received three months of treatment at the hospital, and today is healthier, stronger and energetic.

It is estimated that more than 100,000 people are living with HIV in South Sudan, but only about 4,678 people access anti-retroviral therapy (ARTs). For people living with HIV, contracting TB adds to their challenges, as health services and treatment are limited. Moreover, with both HIV and TB heavily stigmatized, those affected are often reluctant to seek treatment, even where it is available.

Key Results

  • With the assistance of the Global Fund, 9 centres providing anti-retroviral therapies (ARTs) were established across South Sudan
  • 3,757 people living with HIV are accessing treatment from these centres
  • Between 2005 and 2012, the number of TB patients offered HIV diagnostic counselling and testing rose from 1 to 12,753
  • Health services have been provided to more than 155 health care facilities

Through the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis, a joint project targets people with HIV who are at risk of TB. The project provides information on prevention, surveillance, testing, counselling — and, most importantly, hope — to those living with HIV and TB.

As Principal Recipient of the Global Fund, UNDP has administered six rounds of funding since 2004, delivering an average of US $25 million per year.

Alice received treatment through this collaborative programme. In 2012, almost 1,500 TB/HIV co-infected patients received ART treatment, and 4,882 people with tuberculosis received TB treatment. Of those who received the TB treatment, 94 percent have positively reacted to treatment and 76 percent were successfully treated.

Alice has also become instrumental in raising awareness in her community about available health services and the link between TB and HIV.

“I want to tell people about HIV and TB so the community is not closed to TB and HIV patients,” Alice said.

As a peer educator, she speaks to her family, friends, neighbours and community members in church, the market and their homes to encourage them to get tested. She also provides resources and education on the diseases’ symptoms and prevention methods, raising awareness that TB can be cured and HIV managed.

According to Alice, the outlook is positive.

“With time, there will come an understanding,” she said.

The Global Fund is currently the only source of funding to address HIV, and the major source of funding for health services to fight TB and malaria in South Sudan. By collaborating with sub-recipients and implementing partners, needed health services have been provided to more than 155 health care facilities throughout the country. UNDP is also ensuring that clinics have the capacity to offer those services by providing on-the-job coaching and training to staff who provide diagnostic counselling and testing.

As a result, the number of TB patients offered HIV diagnostic counselling and testing rose from just one person in 2005 to 12,753 in 2012. At the same time, because of the training in inventory management, in 2012, no TB facilities experienced out of stock medicine and all new TB patients were registered and notified to the National Tuberculosis Programme.

*Not her real name.