Adolescents Living with HIV (ALHIV) in Zimbabwe have been found to be at risk of depression correlating with poor adherence to ART. As part of its effort to promote the identification and management of mental health conditions among ALHIV, Africaid, with funding support from USAID, developed the Zvandiri Mental Health Screening Tool for use by Community Adolescent Treatment Supporters (CATS). The tool will be used by CATS during clinic and home visits with their peers living with HIV to identify problems requiring referral as well as enhanced support. 16 CATS from Chitungwiza were trained in administering the tool: “this is a very useful tool; the structured screening questions will help us enquire further about issues that affect our clients,” said one of the trained CATS.” Since October 2017, the 16 Chitungwiza CATS have provided monthly counselling, monitoring and support for 335 clients, 69 of whom receive enhanced care due to challenges including virological failure, social protection issues and poor mental health.
Religion is known to influence people’s lives including shaping their health seeking behaviours. Merlin, a Community Adolescent Treatment Supporter (CATS) with Africaid is also a member of an Apostolic sect which is well known for objecting to modern medicine in Manicaland province. Over the years, she has witnessed some of her church peers losing their lives due to doctrine related discouragement to access health care services including HIV testing, treatment and care. “I felt that I should be at the forefront of supporting my peers in my community – no young person should die as a result of poor health seeking behaviours emanating from religious beliefs!”, she said. Merlin, who currently supports 45 peers under her caseload, was recently trained on HIV self-testing and she is on a mission to promote uptake of HIV self-testing among adolescents and youth living with HIV, their siblings and their sexual partners in her church. Africaid targeted to train 104 CATS (61 females and 43 males) from 4 districts of Manicaland (Mutare, Makoni, Buhera, Chipinge) and in April, it managed to train all of them to distribute 4220 self-test kits in their districts.
Community Adolescent Treatment Supporters (CATS) in Kwekwe hailed the expansion of the HIV and Disability Programme to their district. “This is a great programme which will empower beneficiaries to access health care and other services.” Said Audrey a CATS from Mbizo. So far, we have identified eight beneficiaries from Mbizo 1 clinic living with HIV and disabilities and they have been since referred to health facilities for further assistance. They have also joined support groups.” Addie who is also a CATS from Mbizo lamented the lack of awareness on the rights of people with disabilities, “in most cases they are treated like second class citizens, community members are largely unaware of their rights.” Both Audrey and Addie emphasised the need for community engagement to raise awareness on the rights of people living with disabilities.