The project’s main focuses are to raise awareness within the community and to provide educational and psychosocial support. The children’s psychosocial support programme aimed at HIV-positive children, is the first of its kind in Limpopo that offers this kind of support. The children meet at the facilities monthly when they come to collect their antiretroviral (ART) medication. When they do this, Family Free provides age-specific relevant information about taking medication and to motivate the kids to be healthy.
The project also focuses in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV and new HIV infections in adolescents as well as educating HIV-positive children and their caregivers.
Family Free’s initiatives take a holistic approach that includes traditional healers, men, women, grandmothers and children. Community awareness of PMTCT is a key aspect of the Family Free project. These initiatives not only raise knowledge levels around HIV and how HIV-positive mothers can ensure that their infants are HIV-negative, but also focus on helping HIV-negative people maintain their status.
Realising that their clients often seek counsel and treatment from traditional healers, Family Free engages traditional healers in their awareness campaigns and drives.
Family Free also engages male partners and grandmothers (gogos) in their awareness campaigns encouraging them to take more active roles in their partner or granddaughter’s pregnancy.
As the family matriarch, grandmothers fill caregiver roles in South African families. Gogos often look after infants when their mothers return to work and are often closely involved in weaning and feeding. This makes it difficult for a mother in the PMTCT programme to administer treatment to the baby or to enforce the strict breastfeeding only policy if the grandmother is not involved.
To pave the way for mothers to share their status with their mothers or mothers-in-law, Family Free promotes PMTCT awareness and education among the older generation. With a better understanding of HIV and its prevention, gogos are able to set aside their prejudice and support their daughters. The Family Free programme also considers the important role men play can play in pregnancy and caring for infants.
The team makes men in the community aware of the ins and outs of PMTCT, including the importance of correct infant feeding and adherence to antiretroviral treatment (ART). This enables fathers to support their female partners throughout their pregnancy, giving both partners an active role in ensuring the health of their children.
While men and grannies form a crucial peripheral support system, the women themselves are at the core of the PMTCT programme. Through support groups and dialogue, Family Free aims to guide and educate HIV-positive pregnant woman. The women themselves facilitate the process, sharing experiences and encouraging early ANC bookings, correct infant feeding and adherence.
The Mobile health unit operates by roving throughout the district offering voluntary HIV counselling and testing, including the point of care CD4 count testing, and screening for hypertension, diabetes and eye disease. In case of positive test results, individuals are provided with relevant information and the importance to visit the healthcare facility for further treatment is stressed. As such, the Mobile Health Unit fills a significant gap in accessibility of healthcare.
Bridging the gap between the rural community and the clinic, the unit aims to address the health needs of people living in remote areas and farm workers. It also targets taxi ranks and shopping centres, making access to healthcare easier. In addition to HIV-testing, point of care CD4 count is determined if a person is HIV-infected.
In Mopani, the Mobile Health Unit is the facility offering point of care CD4 count testing. Clients test during the HCT campaigns and if they are HIV positive, the blood is drawn for CD4 count and the results are given to the client in 20 minutes. This helps to identify patients with low CD4 count, and thus the need to initiate antiretroviral therapy (ART) on short notice, improves linkage to and retention in care and chance of good prognosis.
A nurse and driver-counsellor working inside the mobile health unit offer the services. This vehicle is equipped with an examination bench, washing basin, CD4 count machine and basic medical equipment such as blood pressure and glucose machines. In addition, an extensive array of information is available through pamphlets and other education materials.
The Mopani district has a 24% HIV positivity rate for the antenatal care visitors and there are approximately 3700 HIV-positive children that are on ART. Mopani is one of five districts in Limpopo Province and has been designated by the South African Government one of the 18 priority development districts. This recognises the fact that Mopani District has a poor service delivery in various aspects including healthcare, education and infrastructure.