The anxiety of embarking on an unknown journey can be frightful to many. While the fear of the unknown can keep some from life-transforming ventures, a little push from someone who has experienced and benefitted from such a voyage may just be the spark needed to motivate such persons to accept the new life experience. Dinga Simon provides such helping-hand to HIV newly diagnosed clients at the Limbe Regional Hospital .
Accepting and living with HIV for over 20 years, while consistently adhering to treatment has left Dinga with a suppressed viral load which qualified him to act as an expert client. A role he happily embraced since he was already helping a few PLHIV facing challenges to embrace their HIV status. “My goal is to make people living with HIV to be virally suppressed like myself. To get there, they have to accept their status and live positively,” Dinga explaines.
Sometimes, when counselling HIV newly diagnosed clients, health care providers often experience a gap between them and their clients who feel the health providers can’t understand their struggle. Hence, the coming of expert clients like Dinga who have gone throughthese same processes give them more authority to close the gaps and act as “wounded healers” since they counsel these clients based on their personal journey while reiterating that if they could, then these newly diagnosed clients can as well.
It is from this backdrop that people like Mr. Dinga were employed to walk the newly diagnosed clients for a period of three months to ensure they understand what it means to be HIV positive and adhere to treatment. During these first 90 days of treatment and adherence, the expert clients under the Cameroon Linkage Model (CAMLINK) establish a one-on-one relationship with the newly diagnosed clients to facilitate communication. The newly initiated clients are helped to navigate their way through the care and treatment cascades, in their respective health facilities. Dinga calls clients in his cohorts regularly, pay them home visits where need be, bring them health talks in the simplest language to ease understanding and more importantly offer them a shoulder to lean on.
“Generally, when they start crying, I ask them to cry but will always ensure I wipe their tears not only with the back of my hand but also with the words from my mouth. It is tough for most newly diagnosed clients to accept their status, so we are there to make them understand they are not alone, we made it, so can they,” Dinga explained.
Like Dinga, the HIV-Free project led by the CBC Health Services in Zone 1, has recruited over 50 expert clients to help newly diagnosed clients in the North West, South West and Western Regions of Cameroon to offer one- on-one mentorship to newly diagnosed clients.
This strategy came to close the gap which proved that at least 30% of newly initiated clients defaulted or were lost to follow-up during the first three months of care. Thanks to this strategy, the rate of newly initiated clients who default during the first three months of care has dropped to 3%.
Hence, it is no doubt that peer influence can sometimes be a driving force to help some people to embark on life-changing experiences which will enhance their quality of lives. Thanks to people like Dinga Simon, newly diagnosed clients can mirror themselves through them and gather the courage to move on holding their heads high.