The extensive referral structures that the Network Project developed is still there and still working; NSAs have continued to do their work, referring between health centres and the community, regardless of the fact that they are no longer receiving stipends.
What’s inspiring is how many of the NSAs and People Living with HIV (PLHIV) Networks have extended their activities beyond the original remit of the project and are working independently to link up with other projects.
The refurbished community centres were originally intended to be used primarily for HIV but communities supported by NSAs are starting to use them for other prevention programmes such as child immunisation and polio vaccination. Community centres are also becoming training centres for public health training; literacy training in one area; and a meeting place for village leaders to discuss community issues.
The centres, the NSAs and the Networks have taken their roles far beyond what was originally intended. NSAs are no longer solely HIV service referral agents and advocates, they are now encouraging and supporting greater community development beyond HIV and dealing with wider community health issues.
NSAs in Luwero, with the Nyimbwa PLHIV group, have linked up with the Stephen Lewis Foundation and secured funding for further refresher training and have established a new clinic themselves. In another area, with support from local leaders, PLHIV groups are assisting orphans and other vulnerable children through primary education by sub-granting.
Income generation project have bloomed. The Jinja PLHIV group has successfully bid for and received a grant through The AIDS Support Organisation (TASO) to purchase a grinding machine for maize which the community can use for income generation activities and other projects are supporting individuals with selling passion fruit and other produce.
Many NSAs are still in touch with the Alliance Uganda office; they come and check-in for support and to just visit. Where funds are available, Alliance Uganda provides financial support for training while the PLHIV group provide the costs for participation.
Many of the groups are asking when they can register as members of CHAU, the new linking organisation that Alliance Uganda is in the process of transitioning to – they are very keen to be part of the network of CHAU and Alliance Uganda sees these links to the community as invaluable.
The project shows that community support groups can have a huge impact, that these interventions can be cost effective and affect change at a grassroots level.
It has proved that encouraging PLHIV to be actively involved in providing and encouraging access to services at a community level, increases people’s feelings of usefulness to their community and reduces stigma.
The project, which actively advocated the leadership of people with HIV in the fight against AIDS, shows that the power and strength of communities is undeniable – when people believe in themselves and receive the right kind of encouragement, they can achieve amazing results that all can benefit from.
many have extended their activities beyond the original remit and are working independently