The Kenyan government responded quickly to COVID-19. The first case in the country was announced on 13 March 2020. Within a week the government had declared a nationwide curfew and restrictions on movement. The impact on already marginalised populations was immediate. Brothels, bars and other hot spots where people meet or work were closed. Many people lost their jobs or sources of income. As a result, many people decided to temporarily move to rural areas, including young people forced to move in with their parents and caregivers.
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LVCT Health provides support for HIV prevention, treatment and care, particularly to marginalised communities through 17 health facilities across Kenya. As soon as the COVID-19 restrictions were announced, LVCT Health began talking to their beneficiaries to understand their needs and concerns. Some people had lost their income and couldn’t afford to travel to clinics; others were unsure how they would access health facilities in rural areas. Solutions had to be found quickly as people were preparing to leave for their rural homes – there was a real risk that people would stop their HIV treatment and that levels of new HIV infections would increase.
LVCT Health arranged for all their service users who are living with HIV to be given a three-month stock of ARVs and for those accessing prevention services to be provided with multi-month supplies of condoms and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Some people were reluctant to carry medication for three months, so plans were made for their medical supplies to be sent to them by courier once a month. The next challenge was keeping channels of communication open with the peer educators who provide treatment and psychosocial support. Monthly follow-up calls were booked in, especially for beneficiaries living with HIV who were not virally suppressed. Treatment adherence support was sent via SMS messages and clients were given a freephone number to call anytime they needed extra help. Peer educators also set up support groups. They “met” via WhatsApp to share their worries, ask questions and even request supplies such as condoms, lubricants, needles or syringes.
LVCT Health found that the support groups worked best when they were organised by community members, so separate groups were created for men who have sex with men, sex workers and young people. LVCT Health is planning to continue providing virtual support groups in the future as these have been so well received. They believe the success of the groups lies in their adaptability. Each specific support group is tailored to a different population, creating a space where people can talk freely, share common concerns and
access support for their specific needs.
This Article was first published in the FRONTLINe AIDS Newsletter