A training initiative for clinicians and community workers who deliver life-saving HIV services to communities facing hostility and prejudice, was launched this week.
The Afya Academy, a partnership between the International HIV/AIDS Alliance (Alliance) and Anova Health Institute (Anova), trains clinicians and community activists who work with sex workers, gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM), transgender people and intravenous drug users,
The first three-day training event in Johannesburg drew participants from five African countries and included sessions on rolling out pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) among gay and MSM communities in Africa. The training curriculum was designed to develop participants’ knowledge and skills working with African gay men and other MSM, often in exceptionally hostile and highly prejudiced social and legal environments. The course includes an emphasis on how to reach and engage MSM in all aspects of health care, from ensuring safety, to combination prevention to HIV treatment adherence.
Glenn de Swardt, Global Programmes Manager at Anova, emphasized that the Academy is the culmination of three years of research and planning: “We are exceptionally proud that the Academy – the first of its kind on the continent – has been launched and that we are conducting the first training event. This represents a significant development in how we share expertise, latest innovations and best practice regarding the complexities of key populations and their sexual and social health. We look forward to developing the Afya Academy to become a major contributor to addressing HIV and sexual and reproductive health, and extending services to marginalized populations across Africa.”
Gavin Reid, HIV Technical Lead (Key Populations) from the Alliance, added that: “The Afya Academy builds on our ongoing partnership with Anova which has successfully delivered intensive MSM healthcare trainings to clinicians and communities to support them to sharpen their focus, increase their reach and augment their approaches to service delivery in order to improve health outcomes and the dignity of African key populations in all their diversity”.
Feedback from participants attending the inaugural training event has been very positive. “The Afya Academy is a unique platform where both programme implementers and activists can share local African knowledge and experiences that contribute to the UNAIDS targets through evidence based solutions that target African key populations”
“The training is vital for me to unpack and appreciate concepts I had heard of but didn’t understand that I will use to advocate, educate and implement health programmes in rural Uganda”
“I learned so much about key populations and why they need our special attention”
The Afya Academy will provide regular topical training opportunities, hosted across Africa. The Academy is supported by a website, afya4men.info, that provides nuanced information to MSM in Swahili, French and English. The site is set to undergo extensive revision and expansion in 2017.
Glenn de Swardt, Anova Health Institute: 011 581 5000 / 082 075 7344
Gavin Reid, International HIV/AIDS Alliance: 072 99 44 188
Additional information on the Afya Academy partnership:
Anova Health Institute has undertaken extensive training of health workers within the public sector in South Africa, supported by PEPFAR/USAID and the Global Fund. This has culminated in over 260 public clinics being declared competent to deliver relevant health services to MSM. Training content was developed locally, primarily through Anova’s two Centres of Excellence in MSM health, and through working with both injecting drug users and transgender populations. Anova’s expertise has been recognised by USAID’s EQUIP Consortium to take the lead in providing African solutions to regional key population health challenges with a specific focus on achieving 90-90-90 goals among key populations and through the provision of PrEP.
The International HIV/AIDS Alliance is a unique worldwide alliance of national civil society organisations dedicated to ending AIDS through community action. Our vision is a world without AIDS and our mission is to work with communities through local, national and global action on HIV, health and human rights. The Academy was supported by two Alliance Centres – the Centre for HIV treatment hosted by Via Libre and the Centres for HIV, health and rights of key populations hosted by Positive Vibes. These Centres help to bridge the gap between evidence and practice by drawing on their individual expertise to connect, bring together and develop the Alliance’s collective knowledge, experience and community links on treatment and key populations respectively.
When we work together, we make massive strides to eliminate the stigma around HIV and to help provide further access to health care and vital information on HIV. The best action any of us can take is to keep ourselves informed. Staying abreast of the current services and information around HIV can turn each of us into a valuable resource in our communities. Empower yourself with knowledge about HIV and contribute to the advocacy of wellbeing. We’re Braver Together!
In the build to World Aids Day, Anova Health Institute officially launched their Score4Life campaign at the Alex Plaza today in Alexandra, Johannesburg, which has resulted in over 6 000 men knowing their status since its inception in July this year.
Anova in partnership with the Gauteng Department of Health and Johannesburg Health District, are seeing higher numbers of HIV-positive men between the ages of 35 and 50, which makes this demographic a key focus going forward.
Region Health Deputy Director, Vusi Mazibuko acted as MC addressing the men in Alex today, encouraging them to get tested and know their status. He also challenged the men to consider the appropriateness of intergenerational relationships, playing roles such as “blessers”, or “sugar daddies”, when many have daughters of the same age. He put great emphasis on the need for men to take responsibility for themeselves and their actions.
Score4Life offers free, safe and confidential HIV testing for men in a semi-permanent pop-up facility in the Alex Plaza shopping centre.
Knowing your HIV status empowers you to make the right choices to prolong your life, yet as many as 60% of South African men do not know their status. This puts men at risk of serious illness and untimely death, which is entirely preventable with the right treatment and interventions.
"Men are the key focus in curbing Aids.”, said Mogeru Morewane, Chief Director of Johannesburg for The Gauteng Department of Health.
“Our Score4Life initiative gives men a chance to learn their status in a safe and confidential environment. Testing is, however, just the first step in the HIV prevention and treatment process. To keep the channels of communication open and to provide linkages to localised services and care, participants will be issued with airtime to give them the means to access these services, regardless of their status,” said Dr Diana Mokoena of Anova.
When addressing the men about USAID’s goals for involvement in the project, USAID Mission Director Rebecca Krzywda, said that innovation is the hallmark of their strategy and that this health project was just that, innovative.
To participate in Score4Life men need to be 21 years or older, have a cell phone with an active number and a valid proof of identity. These can include a birth certificate, a South African ID document, a drivers’ license or a passport (of any nationality).
The Score4Life pop-up facility is located in Shop 26 in the Alex Plaza shopping centre, near to Joshua Doore. It is open seven days a week. The testing and counselling is done in private and should take approximately 20 minutes to complete.
**The campaign forms part of the DREAMS Project and is funded by the US President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Anova welcomes the start of the HIV vaccine trial in November and salutes the leadership of our colleague Professor Glenda Gray, president of Medical Research Council of South Africa (MRC) and research professor of paediatrics at Wits University, in achieving this milestone. Gray will be leading the trial.
In South Africa, the study will be carried out by the pox protein public private-partnership (P5) consortium comprised of major international organisations. These include the US Military HIV Research Programme, the MRC, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN).
In response to this great news, Professor James McIntyre, Anova CEO, says: “An efficacious HIV vaccine is the best chance that we have to end the AIDS epidemic, but the road to develop, test and produce a vaccine is long and hard. This trial is an important next step in testing a vaccine that has shown some efficacy in trails in Thailand.”
It is, however, important to realise that these trials are just beginning and will take until at least 2020 before there are results. It will then take several more years after that, even if the vaccine is very effective, to become available.
In the meantime, we have to maximise the use of prevention strategies that already exist. Anova is leading the way in starting to provide pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for men who have sex with men. PrEP, which involves taking one combination antiretroviral pill a day, is almost 100% effective in preventing infection, if used consistently.
The South African government recently announced a move in strategy to "test and treat" - starting HIV infected people on antiretrovirals as early as possible, without waiting for their immune systems to be compromised. This will also dramatically reduce their risk of transmitting the virus to other people. Condoms continue to provide protection against infection.
An HIV vaccine is an essential tool to end AIDS, but there is still a lot we can do while we wait for one to be available.