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USAID Health Care Improvement Project Distributes Bicycles to Peer Mentors in Tanzania
URC's USAID Health Care Improvement Project (HCI) distributed bicycles to 55 "peer mentors" in early May. These mentors are people with HIV who support health facility staff by counseling other patients with HIV and assisting with clinic tasks. Experienced in living with HIV and interacting with health services, peer mentors can improve HIV patients' knowledge and skills in managing their illness.
The bicycles are intended to facilitate the transportation of the peer mentors within their community in the Morogoro Region of Tanzania. For them, mobility is essential to perform counseling during home visits and to track patients who have not returned for care.
Addressing event participants, the Morogoro Municipal Deputy Mayor, the Honorable Lydia Mbiaji, commended the U.S. Agency for International Development , the Regional Health Management Team (RHMT), and the Morogoro Municipal and Rural councils for their support to health care workers in improving the quality of HIV services in the region.
"Since 2011, we have seen the contribution of peer mentors in helping their peers to understand and to acquire skills and knowledge to cope with the challenges resulting from the use of drugs and the importance of attending clinic on time," said Mrs. Mbiaji.
"The availability of peer mentors as well as facility-based quality improvement teams has significantly improved the quality of HIV/AIDS care. We are very grateful to HCI, the region, and councils for involving patients themselves in these processes of care and treatment," she said.
Morgoro's Acting Regional Medical Officer, Dr. Frank Mrema, thanked USAID and URC for recognizing the importance of involving HIV/AIDS patients in the process of care-giving by using their accumulated experience to educate new patients on anti-retroviral treatment (ART), which helps to reduce mortality and morbidity rates among people living with HIV and improve their quality of life. "This is a very important move," he commented in reflecting on the institution of peer mentors, "as people living with HIV are empowered to monitor their conditions and decide with information what they are supposed to do for their health from day-to-day."
He added that HCI has made a significant contribution in supporting efforts to reduce Morogoro's HIV prevalence, which now stands at 5.1%, down from 7.2% in 2008. "These achievements are results of combined efforts by several players, including HCI, which has supported quality improvement for HIV/AIDS in all the districts in Morogoro."
For their part, the peer mentors, through their leader, Mr. Juma Kabombe, thanked HCI, USAID, and the other donors for accepting their request for transport and uniforms.
"We are thankful for the bicycles, as they will help us to reach patients who we would not have reached because of transport problems and to track patients who are lost to follow-up; we are also thankful for the t-shirts, which we will use as uniforms when carrying out our responsibilities at health facilities."
Peer mentors also requested that the program be spread to cover all the districts and health facilities for the benefit of more people who are living with HIV/AIDS. They also expressed concerns on the lack of CD4 machines for blood screening, especially in remote areas, to help people know their health status.
Dr. Davis Rumisha, URC's Chief of Party for HCI in Tanzania, congratulated the peer mentors for the great job they are doing in helping fellow patients on ART manage their condition in line with best
practices. He also thanked USAID for funding the project. He told the peer mentors that they are in a better position to help others, especially children, because no one understands the experience of HIV/AIDS better than they do. "You also have a responsibility to take care of your health but also to help other patients who have problems," he said.
He urged the government find ways to sustain the patient self-management program under which people living with HIV are recruited to serve as peer mentors and to build their capacity to assist fellow patients. "We are requesting the Municipal authorities to set aside a small budget in order to support activities of this program so that even when HCI is gone, the program will continue running."
He added that "The USAID Health Care Improvement Project in Tanzania is supporting peer mentors for patients on ART from 14 sites in Morogoro Region where they function as resource persons to peer patients in addressing day-to-day challenges in managing their disease. These peer mentors . . . use their personal experiences, testimonies, and empathy to assist fellow patients to improve their confidence, health literacy, and self-efficacy in day-to-day care."
"The peer mentors have also helped to reduce health staff's workloads at health facilities by assisting with some of the simple tasks, like sorting out files and checking weights, to free up time for health care workers to pay more attention to the most seriously ill patients," he concluded.
May 21, 2012