This year marks the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day, and this year’s theme is ‘Know Your Status.’ During the last three decades a lot of progress has been made in the fight against HIV and AIDS with 3 out of 4 people living with HIV knowing their status. More work still needs to be done to ensure that every person living with HIV knows their status and linking them to quality care and prevention services. HIV testing is one of the most important components to ensuring that people living with HIV can lead healthy fulfilled lives.
Eliwaja Samwell is from Singida in Northern Tanzania and married with one son. Throughout his life she has worked hard to pay for his upbringing, and he is now 23 years old and has a certificate in teaching. Eliwaja separated from her husband in 2003 after testing HIV positive.
She was tested at the Faraja Centre outreach programme run by the Medical Missionaries of Mary, and at that time there were no anti-retroviral medications (ARV’s) available. In 2006 she was one of the first people to begin the treatment with counselling from the Faraja Centre and referral to the Singida government hospital. Eliwaja’s CD4 count at this time was 101, which was under the 200 threshold to start treatment with ARV’s. She followed all of the instructions and did very well on the regimen.
In 2009 Eliwaja began working with the Faraja Centre and the outreach programme, which was partly funded by USAID and a local NGO called Tunajali (We Care). She speaks very good English, Swahili and the local dialect which makes her an expert and valuable resource to the community and the Faraja Centre.
“We were given much training and with the government 24 Community Health Workers were chosen and trained to a high level. Together with the Community Health Worker’s we started Home Based Care for People living with HIV,” said Eliwaja, “treatment was new and not easily available – sometimes clients even had to pay a big amount for a month’s treatment as it came from Kenya.”
“We visited and searched for People living with HIV. Our centre had an open door for free counselling and testing, and it was the first centre to operate in Singida town.”
Eliwaja was among one of the first Community Health Worker’s, chosen by her community and certified by the government that Faraja chose to work with them. She excelled from the beginning and worked tirelessly with the focal person from the Faraja Centre visiting clients. Those who tested HIV+ were encouraged to go to the government hospital for ARV’s. Throughout the municipality many benefited from awareness raising and others who had concerns were given extra counselling by the Faraja Centre staff and Community Health Worker’s.
Unfortunately stigma was a big problem – anyone seen going in the door of the Faraja Centre were considered HIV positive. This lasted for some time until the centre began caring for vulnerable children many of whom were children of HIV positive clients. Many clients died and their families and extended relatives were also taken care of. The local NGO Tunajali supplied gloves, mattresses, mosquito nets and Community Health Worker’s received an allowance and transport costs, as well as umbrellas and torches.
Eliwaja was a person living with HIV and at the beginning people did not believe her when she shared her story of being HIV positive because she looked so well. As time went by she talked with many groups in schools and hospitals sharing the message it was possible to live a good life even being HIV positive.
The Faraja Centre Outreach Programme went beyond focusing on health and instead opened up to a more holistic approach of improving livelihoods by setting up Small Internal Lending Communities to allow members to borrow and lend money of their own. Today Eliwaja has a Small Internal Lending Community with 45 members – 33 women and 12 men. With the money saved, Eliwaja was able to send her son to school right up to his training as a teacher.
The Faraja Centre Community-based Health Care (CBHC) is a non-profit faith based organisation (FBO) located in Singida town, within Singida Municipality in North Central Tanzania. It is administered by the Medical Missionaries of Mary (MMM), an International Missionary Congregation of Catholic women religious, founded to bring the love of God to others through a service of healing. The Faraja Centre has carried out HIV-related interventions since 2002, beginning as an outreach of the Medical Missionaries of Mary, Makiungu Hospital to mitigate the effects of the HIV epidemic. Faraja was officially registered in Dar es Salaam in September 2005 under the Ministry of Home Affairs as an FBO working with the Catholic diocese of Singida. Later in 2017 we were recognised by the Ministry of Health, Community development, Gender, Elderly and children as the programme had expanded from voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) activities to a comprehensive programme with social, developmental and outreach components of awareness raising and Home Based Palliative care, the most recent programme established is to raise awareness on Gender Based Violence and Human Trafficking.