Members of over 16-Support Groups in the Southwest Region of Cameroon have engaged to live healthy amidst the challenges brought by the overstretched crisis plaguing the English Speaking parts of Cameroon. The commitment was taken at the 2019 Support Group Conference staged at Health Services Complex Mutengene under the theme, “Live Healthy in Challenging Times”.
Lauretta-Barbara Kometa, Manager of the Community Initiative for AIDS Care and Prevention (CIACP) of the CBC Health Services told CBCHS Press that the goal of the conference was to bring together people living with HIV (PLHIV) to have updates on how to adhere to treatment, support them with life skills to break the barriers of stigma and discrimination that still linger in the community towards [them] PLHIV. “Every time they come together we teach them income-generating skills such as making of peanuts, fish pie, and many other crafts,” Babara said.
The CIACP Manager continued that the conference also allows them to hear the testimonies of other group members and be encouraged to live a better life in their communities. Today, we are happy we have close to 400 members who have come from far and near distances despite the challenges.
She highlighted that “There are many people out there living with HIV and AIDS, who see no reason to live. But we are encouraging such people to know that CIACP is here to help them live a better life. HIV and AIDS are treated and carriers can live with them for hundreds of years.
According to Barbara, “We help groups, not individuals. That is why we encourage anyone who needs our help to locate us and join a Support Group”.
Adhering to treatment can greatly reduce the viral load to levels where the immune system is no longer at risk of opportunistic infections. Hence, free viral load testing is one of the important services CIACP offers Support Group members during their conferences.
Dr. Pascal Nji Atanga, Senior Technical Advisor of HIV Care and Treatment, HIV Free Northwest and Southwest Project told the Conference participants that viral load testing is very important for every person living with HIV and AIDS.
“This testing helps the patient to know how much progress he or she is making under medication. HIV/AIDS is just a health condition which is effectively treated, if you are consistent with your medication, it suppresses the virus from spreading deep into the system”, Dr. Atanga explained.
The Support Group members were also encouraged on the use of their Continues Care Card (CCC) during emergencies. The CCC helps registered members to get the medication in any health facility in the world in times of crisis, or relocations.
Mr. Fred (given name) has been seropositive for over 10 years today. He says “Living with HIV, I had to grapple with rejection, isolation, and discrimination from friends.” However, since joining ‘Milky Way,’ a Support Group in Mutengene working in collaboration with CIACP, I have had a glimpse of hope towards destigmatization. “When you are stigmatized you can die. But once you destigmatize yourself you can live up to 100years,” says Fred with a broad smile. He noted that, “Thanks to the support group we now operate a chair-rental business to care for the needs of our members”.
“Lifelong support and funding for HIV care are today very limited, therefore; we must change our approach in providing care to PLHIV. Equipping Support Group members with skills on how to produce locally-made products and consumables that will serve income-generating means will enable them to meet their immediate needs and to live normal lives in the community,” notes Lauretta-Barbara.
Mrs. Jane (given name) says “I joined ‘Help Out’ Mutengene way back in 2009. Since then my life has changed. In our support, we have been taught how to produce soya beans powder and other products that enrich our diet to live healthily. Besides improving our diet, we produce chewable and detergents to sell to better our lot. “Thanks to the teachings I have received here, I am now providing psychosocial support to others to adhere to treatment,” avows Jane.
Support Groups have principally PLHIV as members, who come together to share common concerns on their health, build self-esteem of the members who have no hope for living and in like manner inspire many community members to know their status and adhere to Antiretroviral (ARVs) for those positive.
The 2019 Support Group Conference was in its fourth edition.