Feature story

Coming together to address the cost of inequality

15 December 2020

“My business suffered because of corona. Before corona, I would sell at least 10 egg trays a week. At the height of the pandemic, I was lucky if I could sell two trays,” lamented George Richard Mbogo, who is living with HIV, a father of two, and owns a chicken, egg and chips business in Temeke, a district in the southern part of Dar es Salaam, United Republic of Tanzania.

The COVID-19 crisis has adversely impacted the livelihoods of people living with HIV in the United Republic of Tanzania, exacerbating the challenges they face. These include HIV service delivery and widening social and economic inequalities.

“Corona has been a very difficult time. I lived with a lot of worry and stress. Driving a bodaboda (motorbike taxi) requires going into crowds and working closely with people. It has been difficult not to fall into anxiety and depression, balancing getting my HIV treatment and work. I had moments thinking of stopping taking my meds, but I didn’t,” said Aziz Lai, a motorcycle driver who also lives in Dar es Salaam. 

Although the colliding pandemics of HIV and COVID-19 are hitting the poorest and the most vulnerable the hardest, through national resource mobilization the COVID-19 crisis has created an opportunity for partners to mobilize in support of the communities they serve.

The collaborative efforts between the government, development partners, including the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, USAID and UNAIDS, the National Council of People Living with HIV (NACOPHA) and community activists have been key in responding to COVID-19, providing information, services, social protection and hope to people living with HIV during these unprecedented and trying times.

One such initiative is Hebu Tuyajenge, run by NACOPHA and funded by USAID, which focuses on increasing the utilization of HIV testing, treatment and family planning services among adolescents and people living with HIV, strengthening the capacity of community organizations and structures and improving the enabling environment for the HIV response through empowering people living with HIV.

Caroline Damiani is a single mother of three who is living with HIV and keeps chicken and ducks for a living. “Hebu Tuyajenge gave us personal protective equipment, sanitizers, soap and buckets and education about COVID-19 and how to take care of ourselves in order to stay healthy during the pandemic,” she said.

Through community-based services that supplement facility-based care, people living with HIV have been linked to and kept on treatment during the crisis by critical peer-to-peer HIV services.

For Elizabeth Vicent Sangu, who has been living with HIV for 26 years, her “numbers” speak for themselves.

“From my community follow-ups, I have returned 80 people to the clinic for CD4 count testing, inspired 240 people to get tests, reported 15 gender-based violence cases and provided education to 33 groups, including youth and church groups,” she said, beaming with pride.

NACOPHA helped Ms Sangu to come to terms with her status and helped her on her own journey of self-empowerment.

“Since becoming a treatment advocate for Hebu Tuyajenge, I have received help with entrepreneurship and education about HIV. I have become a teacher for others. I have made others brave about living with HIV and getting tested,” she said.

The partnership between community advocates and health facilities has paid off.

“Both we and our patients were fearful initially, but due to information and education, things got better. We focused on providing hourly and daily information to patients about corona and made sure that people practised safe social distancing,” said Rose Mwamtobe, a doctor at the Tambukareli Care and Treatment Centre in Temeke.

“Not only in the United Republic of Tanzania, but globally, COVID-19 is showing once again the cost of inequality. Global health, including the AIDS response, is interlinked with human rights, gender equality, social protection and economic growth,” said Leopold Zekeng, UNAIDS Country Director for the United Republic of Tanzania.

“The key to ending AIDS and COVID-19 is for all partners to come together, on a country and global level, to ensure that we leave no one behind,” he said.