Navigating the Eastern Cape lockdown to provide HIV care to MSM and transgender people
NGOs are going the extra mile to ensure that key population groups, specifically, men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people, are supported to continue with their HIV care and treatment amid the lockdown restrictions. Rose Ross, programme manager at Social Health and Empowerment (S.H.E) explains, “MSM and transgender people should not default on their treatment at this time because if they do, they will be more susceptible to contracting coronavirus due to their weakened immune system.”
S.H.E have structured special teams in the OR Tambo district of the Eastern Cape to help with screening and tracing people for Covid-19. Nurses and peers are among the outreach teams and are supported by social workers who are providing virtual psycho-social sessions for those who need it during these times of stress and anxiety. Senior social workers have extended their reach through weekly talks on community radio stations to ensure that the correct messages and advice is shared to make people aware of what to do amidst the myriad of health messages.
S.H.E uses linkage officers to follow up and encourage clients to adhere to treatment. The need for educational sessions regarding HIV, TB, sexually transmitted infections, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and Covid-19 has increased and much of this work is being done by social workers on a one-on-one basis. Ross says, “While this approach is time consuming, this is the only way it can be done under the lockdown restrictions.”
Beyond Zero delivers public health programmes throughout South Africa focussing on HIV and Aids. S.H.E is its partner in the Eastern Cape. Dr Bulumko Futshane, Beyond Zero’s programme director says, “We must ensure that people living with HIV are not defaulting on their treatment due to the lockdown restrictions. We are relying heavily on our implementing partners like S.H.E to be persistent in their outreach to create access for their clients.”
S.H.E’s programme in the Garden Route area, which focuses on transgender people have a few staff members out in the field assisting the district with screening and tracing of clients while the rest of the team are working from home where they are engaging with clients through sharing of information and providing educational content to clients telephonically or via WhatsApp. This district has a peer champion who focuses on advocacy and human rights issues that she shares via the hotline and WhatsApp support groups and through Facebook.
Clinics which are supported by S.H.E teams are in Pascaltsdorp, Central and Thembaletu. The needs of the community extend beyond just the health information and treatment but also to the basic needs of food due to loss of income. S.H.E has also assisted with the delivery of food parcels to clients in need.
The screening and tracing services can be accessed from 8am to 4pm, together with the psycho-social services and educational sessions which are offered from 8:30am – 4:30pm and there is also after hours support available for emergencies.
The hotline 078 664 0535 / 072 784 8786 which runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week has received numerous calls from transgender clients seeking clarity and support.
Note to editors:
Men who have sex with men (MSM) are men who are sexually active with men regardless of whether they also have sex with women, whether they are straight, gay or bisexual or identify in other ways. Therefore, please do not refer to MSM as gay.
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Social Health and Empowerment
S.H.E contextualises the lives of African transgender and intersex women employing a feminist framework. Transgender and intersex women are not visible in African feminist spaces.
S.H.E first represented women’s sexual and reproductive health rights in East London. Its work is based on collective action and is registered as a coalition with the South African Department of Social Development where it works on an equal basis with its partners. S.H.E delivers a feminist agenda as an ideological underpinning to its work.
Beyond Zero NPC is a registered section 21 (NPO), delivering public health systems strengthening programmes in South Africa focussing on HIV and AIDS, STI care, TB care, patient support, treatment, and prevention. Striving for a future beyond zero new HIV infections, Beyond Zero leads and provides strategic management, oversight, monitoring and evaluation on the implementation of the Global Fund grant for April 2019 until March 2022.
Focus areas of delivery include:
- Comprehensive prevention programmes for men who have sex with other men and the transgender community.
- Supporting Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) and providing access to information and free healthcare that is discreet, confidential, free of discrimination and administered by qualified professionals.
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