Without specialist support and attention, adolescents are being left out of the huge progress made in the fight against HIV. AIDS is now the second most common killer for adolescents across the globe. Our REACH project, in partnership with PATA, addresses this critical gap in in adolescent friendly health services by building on our Community Health Worker model to focus specifically on adolescents.
Whilst the global AIDS response has made magnificent gains, AIDS remains the leading cause of death for African adolescents. In fact, the number of adolescents dying AIDS related deaths has tripled since 2000. In 2015 alone, 670,000 young people between the ages of 15 to 24 were newly infected with HIV, of whom 250,000 were adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19. Recent data also indicates that only 13% of adolescent girls, and 9% of adolescent boys, aged 15-19 in Sub-Saharan Africa, have been tested for HIV in the last year and received their result. The problem is made far worse by multiple factors, including the fact that clinics are over-burdened, that perceptions of HIV-related risk are inaccurate, that adherence is poor, that access to ART for adolescents is bad, and that adolescents face complex social issues. These young people are going through a difficult time of change in their lives and need role models to follow that offer them holistic support.
In April 2015, we launched REACH which grew out of our previous Expert Patient Programme. The premise was simple - use 18-25 year old people in the community, who have HIV themselves, to Re-Engage Adolescents and Children with HIV, acting as catalysts for effective engagement between younger patients and the clinic. These peer supporters use their lived experience to actively improve the quality of care delivered to HIV positive young people.
Peer supporters gave medical professionals more time for complex cases by taking over administrative tasks and reducing teams’ workloads and teach young people about the importance of treatment adherence. They also helped people come to terms with disclosure and the stigma they face, and helped them work through their fears about their own mortality and life with a chronic disease.
54 HIV-positive young people (aged 18 to 24) have been recruited, trained and employed as Peer Supporters.
In its first year, REACH was implemented across 20 health facilities in 5 sub-Saharan Africa countries.
We supported 59 peer supporters and 20 peer supporter supervisors in one year.
In its second year, REACH was implemented in the same 5 countries across 18 health facilities.
REACH engaged 54 YPLHIV as facility-based peer supporters who receive a monthly stipend and on-going supervision and mentorship in their second year.
One to One has used the lessons learned and feedback received from project beneficiaries to develop a new programme, Connect, focused on adolescents.