Joining Hands with FHI 360 to draw cART into MBO Local Government Area: The Story of Sam Effiong
Akwa Ibom state has the second highest HIV prevalence rate amongst pregnant women in the country, out of which only 7% of HIV positive pregnant women received anti-retrovirals (ARVs) for prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) in 2012 and a treatment coverage of 40.7% (PCRP 2012) demonstrating large gaps in reaching those in need of treatment. Mbo local government area (LGA) of Akwa Ibom state with a HIV positivity rate of about 10.4% is one of the LGAs selected for the roll out of an innovative and strategic intervention tagged “community anti-retroviral therapy (cART)” which aims at increasing access to comprehensive HIV services through optimizing service delivery efficiencies and deploying additional facility/community based interventions prioritized for highest burdened communities. The cART strategy is implemented within the Strengthening Integrated Delivery of HIV/AIDS Services (SIDHAS) project, with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
And so began the ride on “cART” to Mbo LGA, a majorly fishing community. The level of health care services in the LGA can easily be gauged by the fact that there are only primary health care centres (PHCs) providing basic health care services. Eyo Udembo village was the first community to be visited and the team was pleasantly struck by the warm and welcoming nature of the people which resonated with the eagerness with which they received the cART team to their community. On receiving the news of the free community health and anti-retroviral treatment (ART) service by the team of healthcare workers, the community broke into songs of joy as finally their cry for help has been heard.
The team eager to begin service delivery were now faced with the reality of the tortuous terrain which was mostly water logged and so finding a location to pitch the counselling tent seemed like a tall order. Just as the team members were almost giving up hope, Mr. Effiong Sam, a Primary school teacher in the community and the secretary to the village council calmed their fears and gave them an amazing reception. He provided a sheltered location for them to set up their tent and his sitting room was made available for counselling and testing services. Another team from the cluster in Mbo LGA made their way to two other communities but to their amazement met with hostility from the youths in the community. The situation seemed daunting and so once again Mr. Effiong came to their rescue. Mr. Effiong now leading the community outreach team, attempted a second entrance into the two communities. He engaged the leaders of the community using the local dialect and explained to them the significance of what was been offered to their communities, and after what seemed like forever, the outreach teams were granted access to commence services in the two communities. Mr. Sam Effiong became an outstanding community entry facilitator. His kind disposition and willingness to assist the outreach teams left an indelible mark on the minds of members of the team.
He became an instant “star” for the team as he mobilized the community in pidgin language. The team could hear him call out to his neighbours and other town council leaders: “make una come ooo. The thing wey we dey find since don come for our domot”….which literally means – “everyone come out. What we have been searching for has finally come to us” referring to the HIV prevention and treatment services of cART. His mobilization support to the team yielded a massive turn out of the community people who participated actively. A total of 220 persons were tested and 12 reactive clients were initiated and enrolled into care and treatment during the outreaches in the visited communities.