In Kenya, Alliance Linking Organisation the Kenya AIDS NGO Consortium (KANCO) supports the Ray Drop-in Centre for women, based just outside of Nairobi. The Centre provides women with the information, skills and equipment they need to prevent contracting or passing on HIV or other diseases or to avoid unwanted pregnancy.
It’s raining hard outside the centre but the staff gear up for their usual late morning rush. “We give out condoms every other minute,” smiles Jennifer Muigai (pictured), the community mobiliser and counsellor.
The Centre is unusual in Kenya in the scope of its services. The women wait for a range of sexual health services including testing for HIV, TB and pregnancy, cervical screening and the provision of free contraceptives. They can also access services for the prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) and monitoring and supervision of anti-retroviral treatment (ART). There is also a community garden, where service users are growing vegetables.
“The women come to be tested for STIs but we offer holistic care,” says Nurse Ruth Njage. She believes it is the privacy and confidentiality of the services that has made the centre so popular: the building is set away from the main drag and down a leafy lane in Rongai, just outside Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city.
The Post Test Club
Every Monday at the Ray centre the
Post-Test Club meets. With an active membership, mostly female, the club
offers mutual support for positive living and treatment buddies so
everyone remembers to take their anti-retroviral treatment.
coordinator is Mildred Macheria. Mildred has been positive for about 20
years and she shows the rest of the group that it is possible to have a
good life whatever your status. “Even with the virus it’s not all
hopeless. We want to live a life, there’s a lot we can do.”
centre helps members edge towards economic empowerment through making
and selling bead work, shampoo and sanitary towels.
Those who are
able to access these services are enthusiastic about them: they like the
fact that they are treated with respect and that – unlike the
government centres – they are free.
Sex worker peer educators group
Many of the women who use the Centre are sex workers. Generally these are young women who are struggling to look after younger brothers and sisters, or their own small children and make ends meet.
There is a sex worker peer educators group that meets on a Friday and around 25 women attend. “We have talent, we want real jobs,” says Ann, who is 23 years old. But in the meantime, there are plenty of challenges – such as how to persuade an unwilling client to use a condom and how to cope when violence against you is not taken seriously. “When neighbours find out I am a sex worker, I have to move on,” Ann continues. “I keep on moving. My kids can’t get used to staying in one place.”
Another member of the group, Pauline, became a sex worker after she lost her office job. She started going to the peer support group at the Ray drop in centre and after being one of the first people there to be trained as a peer educator, has seen her life transformed. She sees one of the roles of the peer educators and support groups to help sex workers: “They aren’t inferior or alive by mistake, they are normal people.” She is now training to be a Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) counsellor. “You must have passion - that people can change and better lives are possible.”
Read more on how the centre provides vital services for sex workers through this Alliance case study on DFID's website.
The Alliance’s global work on SRH and HIV linkages
The Alliance promotes sexual and reproductive health (SRHR) and HIV linkages and rights for key populations through policy and programming. In 2007, the organisation’s charity objectives were updated to include SRHR and HIV linkages and integration, giving the organisation a mandate to expand and broaden its work in this area. In 2008, Alliance partners in nineteen countries reported linked and integrated SRHR-HIV policy and programming. In June 2010, the Alliance and ICW have co-organised the HIV track at the Women Deliver Conference in Washington.
It is possible to have a good life whatever your HIV status