Voluntary HIV Counseling, Testing and Outreach (VCT)
Location: Gulu & Kitgum
Northern Uganda has been severely affected by civil strife since the early 1980's with much of the population continuing to live as internally displaced persons (IDP) in transitory camps. The 20-year conflict allowed for an increased HIV infection rate due to heightened vulnerability, particularly amongst girls and women, as well as gaps in HIV and AIDS service provision to the internally displaced persons and marginalized populations (DFID, 2006). As a result, HIV incidence and prevalence rates are significantly higher in the North than in the rest of the country.
Visions In Action was awarded a grant in 2007 under the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) New Partners Initiative. The Initiative works with new partners, including community- and faith-based organizations, enhancing their technical and organizational capacity and ensuring the quality and sustainability of HIV/AIDS programs by supporting community ownership (pepfar.gov, 2012).
Visions in Action (VIA) is providing support to decrease the HIV/AIDS prevalence rates by placing skilled International Volunteers to work alongside Ugandan Nationals conducting Voluntary HIV Counseling and Testing (VCT) services. VIA also utilizes Ugandan Volunteers as Peer to Peer Counselors to work within 4 VCT Centers, providing free HIV counseling & testing services to 70,000 people over a four year period. Two of the centers were walk-in centers in Gulu and Kitgum, while two were Mobile Outreach clinics that traveled to remote locations to provide an intensive day of HIV counseling & testing. After testing, VIA provides referrals to local hospitals for care and treatment, and develops peer support groups, particularly for the Internally Displaced People (IDP) living within the area. A widespread Information, Education & Communication (IEC) 'Know Your Status' outreach campaign using radio, posters, billboards, banners, newsletters, stickers and brochures in English and Acholi is also being run, targeting 300,000 youth, with 27,000 attending workshops on the ABC approach to HIV, anti-stigmatization, and living positively.
Since the beginning of the program expected targets for testing have been exceeded time and again. For example, from April 2009 to December 2009, 172 workshops were conducted, 24, 879 people were tested and 1,432 tested positive for HIV. A total of 18 workshops were conducted in the month of January 2010 (10= Gulu and 8=Kitgum). From January to March 2010, Visions In Action provided volunteer testing and counseling to a total of 6416 people. 646 people tested positive for HIV and were referred to treatment, care and support services.
Visions In Action has led and participated in many events that have promoted HIV awareness. A sample of some of the events include: The International Candlelight Commemoration Event, a youth HIV prevention event titled 'Preventing the Spread of HIV/AIDS is my Responsibility,' a youth football competition, titled 'Moving to Action against HIV/AIDS,' and a community football event called "Prevention for All." A joint event was organised in collaboration with Volunteer Action Network VAC-NET and the Women's Global Empowerment Fund called: "Creating a Voice for Women." VIA conducted VCT services at the event and tested over 70 women.
Visions in Action has partnered with numerous organizations in the implementation of the VCT program. Partner organizations include: Brother and Sisters for Peace, Northern Uganda Malaria Aids and Tuberculosis Program, Mega FM, Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), International Rescue Committee (IRC), World Vision, Concordia, AVSI, Gulu Military Hospital, American Refugee Committee, Comboni Samaritan and ACORD, Health Alert Uganda (HAU), and the Family Life Network (FLN).
The VCT program has been widely considered a success, especially in meeting the needs of the rural population of Northern Uganda that did not have the opportunity to access HIV testing services before VIA's intervention.
In peace and justice,
The VIA Team