Posted by: davidjolson | 09/26/2010

Stories of HIV, stigma and an innovative testing campaign in Kenya

NOTE: This is a guest blog by Peter Cleary, communications and public relations director for Vestergaard Frandsen, a member organization of GHC, based in New York.

NEW YORK, NY — In Kakamega, Kenya, to be HIV positive before September 2008 meant to be shunned, to get sicker with little access to treatment and unable to fully take advantage of economic and educational opportunities. But after September 2008, after an entire community of nearly 50,000 people were tested for HIV as part of an innovative public health campaign, to be HIV positive was no longer a deep mark of shame.

After the campaign, James, a community peer HIV/AIDS counselor said, “To be HIV positive is not the end of life, but it’s like a new beginning again. Because now you are able to know yourself and where you went wrong; come up to the right track, take the medication, and see life.”

During the campaign, people patiently stood in line for hours, school students showed up to be tested too, and men showed up to be tested in droves (after a little encouragement from the women in their lives). What made this particular campaign different?

Every person who was tested for HIV received a CarePack containing a bed net, water filter, condoms and educational material, tackling the community’s three biggest public health issues — malaria, diarrheal disease and HIV — at once. Those who tested positive received medication, follow up care and counseling at a new community health clinic funded by Vestergaard Frandsen.

With strong community partnerships and with CHF International, the assistance of the experts that launched successful integrated programs in the past, the CarePack campaign grew to serve nearly 50,000 people at over a dozen testing sites over a week in Kakamega. A camera crew followed the campaign progress and several community members invited the cameras into their homes to share their own experiences during the campaign and afterwards. The stigma surrounding getting tested was trumped by massive outpouring of community support and participation, as the stories of these community members would reveal.

“The Test,” a documentary film about this campaign was screened in Washington, DC last week and in New York City this week (in conjunction with the MDG Summit) with Global Health Council panels and echoed the week’s refrain of “integration, integration, integration” in public health discussions in both cities. Vigorous debate followed the film’s screening on the impact of destigmatizing HIV in a community, the company’s enduring commitment to the area and most importantly, how such a campaign can be scaled up to test millions instead of thousands. In New York, speakers included our CEO Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen; Lisa Meadowcroft, executive director of AMREF USA; and Michael Gwaba, ambassador for the “Here I Am” campaign in support of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.

The CarePack campaign is a template that was designed to be scaled up, and we are looking toward the future when cost-effectiveness will spur more integrated campaigns like ours in Kenya, and hopefully, all over Africa and the rest of the world.

To learn more about the campaign and the newly released scientific studies done on the campaign, visit Vestergaard Frandsen’s website.

To learned more about the film, visit see this trailer.


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