Beyond the Clinic Doors: Involving Communities in the Fight to Eliminate Pediatric AIDS
July 12, 2011
Stopping the spread of pediatric HIV and AIDS starts with a pill, a doctor, and a hospital – or does it?
While medicines and medical services are vital to improving the health of children, women, and families living with HIV, the simple reality is that preventing and treating HIV and AIDS doesn’t begin or end at the clinic doors.
A community group in Zambia watches a dramatic
presentation about living with HIV. (Photo: Jen Pollakusky/
The fight against HIV also takes place in communities, where local attitudes and opinions may influence community action, and affect whether women and children have access to important HIV/AIDS services.
HIV-positive mothers – like Teleza from Malawi
– often rely on members of their community, including other women and families living with HIV, for support and counseling. This could include how to get the medication they need to live a healthy life, how to protect their babies from HIV, how to plan when they get pregnant, and how to engage in safe sex.
That’s why the Foundation recently launched a community initiative
(link opens in PDF) to prioritize evidence-based community interventions and build upon the work that the Foundation is currently supporting in local neighborhoods and districts to keep mothers healthy and their infants HIV-free.
Increasing community engagement can help to connect HIV-positive, pregnant women with the medical services they need to prevent HIV transmission to their babies. Empowering local communities also works to reduce stigma involved in prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) services, and to improve male partner involvement in women’s health.
Community engagement can help strengthen psychosocial support for HIV-positive mothers; improve referral systems to connect HIV-positive women to medical care and treatment; and reach underserved, marginalized, and hard-to-reach populations.
Here are a few examples of the Foundation’s community work in action:
A community support group meets in Kenya.
(Photo: Georgina Goodwin/EGPAF)
- In Tanzania, the Foundation is helping to train and sensitize community members and local leaders on techniques for increasing male involvement in PMTCT clinics, and to improve HIV testing and education among both men and women. As a result, the proportion of HIV-positive pregnant women whose male partners have been tested for HIV increased to as much as 85 percent in one clinic.
- In Kenya, the Foundation is strengthening linkages between health facilities and communities by developing community psychosocial support groups for women, children, and families living with HIV and AIDS. Among other things, these support groups help HIV-positive families enroll in treatment and adhere to their drug regimens.
- In Lesotho, community mobilization activities such as Child Health Days provide children with easier access to many health services, including nutritional counseling, HIV testing, and immunizations. Through the work of the Foundation, this community outreach helps connect HIV care and treatment with HIV-positive children and families who need it.
Community involvement is particularly key to combating stigma and discrimination around HIV and AIDS. Local leaders and other community members are integral to educating others about the importance of HIV testing and seeking medical care.
Without community support, myths and other inaccuracies about the disease may perpetuate through local neighborhoods and districts – and have a negative impact on children, women, and families.
It’s clear that to truly halt the spread of HIV, we must engage communities.
Only then will we be able to achieve our mission of eliminating new HIV infections in children, and realize a generation born free of HIV.
Jen Pollakusky is a Senior Public Policy and Advocacy Officer, based in Washington, D.C.