Robina Ssentongo, Executive Director of the Kitovu Mobile AIDS Organization in Uganda (Photo by Alexis MacDonald/SLF)

Robina Ssentongo Speaks

Voices from the Frontlines, Issue 3

Welcome to Voices from the Frontlines, an update from the Stephen Lewis Foundation profiling grassroots African expertise in response to the AIDS pandemic.

This month SLF Campaign Communications Manager Joe Cressy spoke with Robina Ssentongo, Executive Director of the Kitovu Mobile AIDS Organization in Uganda.

Kitovu Mobile AIDS Organization works primarily in the Masaka Diocese of Uganda. They provide care and support to the most vulnerable groups in the seven targeted districts, including people living with HIV and AIDS, orphans and other vulnerable children, widows and grandmothers.


JC: Given your experience rolling out treatment, what would it mean for Kitovu Mobile if everyone who needs antiretroviral (ARV) treatment could access it? What would you need to make this possible?

Robina: Their lives would be saved and their families would be sustained for a better living. It would mean they are able to support their children for education and food production.

To get ARVs to all who need them in our area, we would need a good working laboratory, which we are also working on and hope somebody will help us to establish fully. We also need to be able to follow up with clients who have transportation needs so that we can monitor their CD4 counts. [A “CD4 count” is a blood test that indicates the strength of the immune system and the progression of HIV infection.] And to be able to reach more people we need enough staff who are well trained in managing antiretroviral drugs.

JC: What advice would you give to another grassroots organization that is just beginning to roll out treatment in their community?

Robina: They need to study the meaning of an antiretroviral treatment home-based care programme before starting, to see whether they can take on this responsibility. It requires a lot of commitment, it requires a lot of resources – financial, human and other resources. In other words, you need to do a serious feasibility study and a needs assessment.

We also suggest that you take other steps of community participation and development. This is very critical so that the community can accept the programme and own it. There’s also a need to identify possible collaborating partners; collaboration is very critical if you are to provide the whole package of care that is needed.

JC: We know that women bear the brunt of the AIDS pandemic in Africa, in many ways fuelled by the increased risk of infection, the burden of care, and gender inequality. In your opinion, what does access to treatment mean particularly for women and girls who are HIV positive?

Robina: It’s a new life for women and girls, but it’s also a big responsibility. For them, having no money or work brings a lot of risk around HIV infection. For example, in counselling with Kitovu Mobile we try to support an individual to see that we are able to meet the different needs that will compliment their efforts to live positively with HIV.

These women need a lot of psychosocial and economic support. But in this case social support is difficult because money is not always available to provide it. Also, many women have been abandoned by their partners and they have to bring up children on their own as single parents. They are encountering challenges of income. So at Kitovu Mobile, we are helping some of our clients with an agricultural project so that they can increase their income, have food, and have a new life without fear.

JC: At the moment much of East Africa is in the midst of a food security crisis. The effects of this are far reaching, particularly for those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS. Can you tell us about the impact this is having on people who are on ARV treatment?

Robina: Food insecurity in this country and in our region is real. People who are on ARVs need food and they need to work at the same time. They are very vulnerable, and children may be sent to look for food or money, so they are at increased risk of HIV as well. If they are girls, or even boys, they would encounter risky factors in the process.

So learning about sustainable agriculture and income generating is very helpful as it can improve food security, family income, help in the education of the children and reduce the spread of HIV. Kitovu Mobile meets a lot of clients – children, adults – with nutrition problems. There’s a lot of poverty, many children are out of school and have very poor food and nutrition intake within our catchment area. This has been exacerbated by the fact that the environment now has changed so much that the seasons are no longer reliable, so the agricultural sector has been seriously affected.

Click here to learn more about how the Stephen Lewis Foundation works with community-based organizations like Kitovu Mobile AIDS Organization.


Kitovu Mobile AIDS Organization

Kitovu Mobile AIDS Organization works primarily in the Masaka Diocese of Uganda, an area with high rates of HIV infection. They provide care and support to the most vulnerable groups in seven targeted districts, including people living with HIV and AIDS, orphans and other vulnerable children, widows and grandmothers.

The organization provides counselling and home-based care for people living with HIV and AIDS and tuberculosis (TB). Kitovu pays for orphans’ school fees and other forms of educational support, provides psychosocial support and training, and runs self-help groups for women and youth.

SLF has collaborated with Kitovu Mobile AIDS Organization to support grandmothers, orphans and other guardians by providing medical care, home visits, constructing and repairing shelters and latrines, helping them to access clean water. They are also distributing monthly food supplements, clothing, bedding and household utensils to 300 grandmothers.

In response to the current East African famine, the SLF is working with Kitovu Mobile AIDS Organization to provide urgent food support – including staples such as maize flour and rice to 200 households and 10 schools that have been most severely affected. We are also distributing relief seeds to 160 families to increase their future food supply.   

News

Press Release: Report of the African Grandmothers Tribunal released for World AIDS Day November 29, 2013

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Overduin: Standing with the grandmothers September 18, 2013

Mia Overduin, Ottawa Citizen

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