Engaging Religious Leaders Improves HIV Awareness in Uganda

Busia District in Eastern Uganda has a population of about 250,000 people, 83% of who live in rural villages. HIV prevalence in the district is three times higher than the national prevalence of 6.4%. STAR-E, a project funded by US Agency for International Development and led by Management Sciences for Health (MSH), is working in the district’s health facilities and in the community to address these health indicators.

In March 2010, STAR-E trained a group of 30 religious leaders in HIV & AIDS prevention, care, and support. Florence Auma, an evangelist in the Seventh Day Adventist church, was one of the participants. Since the training, she has spent two to three days each week visiting homes in nearby villages to educate her neighbors about HIV prevention, emphasizing prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. She also conducts HIV prevention sessions at a local health center during the antenatal clinic days.

In June, 2010 Florence visited the home of Gorret Anyango and Sande Matenga. Thirty-eight-year-old Gorret was pregnant with her eighth child. She had delivered all of her seven children at home, with the help of either a neighbor or a traditional birth attendant, as is common in Uganda. Florence explained to Gorret about the importance of HIV testing, antenatal care, and assisted delivery.

Later that month, Florence was pleased to see Gorret at the antenatal care clinic at Lunyo Health Center. For the first time, Gorret was counseled and tested for HIV. Her results revealed that she was HIV positive and she was immediately enrolled into treatment. On October 13, 2010, Gorret gave birth to a baby girl, with the help of Sarah Nanjuku, a midwife at the health center.

Home-to-home sensitization on HIV prevention has increased the number of deliveries at Lunyo Health Center from an average of 10 deliveries per month to 40 per month. The center’s midwife even moved her home closer to the facility to support women who come to deliver at night. “We are overworked, but are motivated by the lives saved,” the midwife said.

Gorret takes her medicine regularly and her baby is healthy and growing well. Her husband tested HIV negative, yet he supports her to live positively and often helps pick up her medicines from the health center.