Tracing HIV Contacts, Saving Lives.

January 18, 2018

Tracing HIV Contacts, Saving Lives.

It happened on July 10, 2017, at the Viana Health Center, one of the nine health facilities supported by the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in Luanda, Angola. Maria, a young mother, brought in her 15 month-old child, seeking care for severe malnutrition. In accordance with clinical guidelines, the child was tested for HIV by the Counseling and Testing Service and was identified as HIV positive. Immediately, Maria was also tested and was found to be HIV positive as well.

The Health for All (HFA) Project, funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Population Services International with support from MSH, supports efforts to link HIV positive individuals with appropriate care through counseling and contact tracing, an important strategy to maintaining progress in controlling the HIV and AIDS epidemic in Angola. Patient Assistant Facilitator, Suzeth de Moráis António, introduced Maria’s case to Eva Hadi Dos Santos, a Community Counselor supported by the USAID HFA Project, who initiated counseling and support for her. She encouraged Maria to speak to her husband and family, and also provided her phone number to ensure that Maria could reach her.  

Maria was very worried about the health of her child, But she lacked the courage to face her husband with the news of their diagnosis. Key to the success of HFA’s strategy is that  Community Counselors presents clients with the advantages of revealing their status to their partner and supports their decision-making.

Later that day, after counseling, Eva received a phone call and she heard the tremulous voice of Maria, asking her to quickly come to her house. Maria’s husband had tried to kill himself. Eva asked to speak with Maria’s husband, Carlos, and managed to keep him calm until she arrived.

She counseled the couple, explaining the stages of HIV and the differences between HIV and AIDS. She discussed topics such as transmission, the strain it can have on a couple, what HIV meant for their child, and the advantages of appropriate care and treatment. Eva’s counseling stressed the importance of support Maria and Carlos should have in each other. She reassured them of her own support and confidentiality, to protect them from stigma and discrimination. She also provided counseling on proper nutrition practices and supported the couple as they struggled with breastfeeding and incorporated formula feeding. “I was very happy and fulfilled after helping this family,” said Eva.  

Soon after, Carlos consented to be tested and his result was negative. Overjoyed by his diagnosis, he committed himself to care for his wife and young child, thanks to support from Eva. Three weeks later, Carlos and Maria returned to Viana Health Center for a scheduled consultation. Their child had recovered from malnutrition and was feeding well and gaining weight.

USAID’s HFA Project supports Community Counselors across three health centers in Luanda, each of them extending care to the community and increasing access and uptake of HIV services.