International Medical Corps started an HIV program in Cameroon’s Djohong health district in April 2011, and later expanded it to Meiganga health district. The program aims to prevent HIV infection by educating local communities through our mobile medical units and gender-based violence sensitization activities. To date, 24,694 people have participated in our HIV-related health education sessions in Djohong and Meiganga.
Challenges to HIV prevention efforts in these districts of Cameroon include local beliefs and a lack of access to services. Polygamy is practiced widely, and HIV positive people prefer to turn to traditional healers instead of treatment centers. To address harmful beliefs and practices, International Medical Corps developed a behavior change program that encourages people to adopt safer sexual behavior to reduce the risk of acquiring and transmitting HIV. Further, although HIV treatment is free in Cameroon, treatment centers are not wide-spread. For example, Djohong health district does not have a treatment center—the closest one is over 55 miles away, a distance that most people do not have the means to travel. Therefore, we aim to help Djohong Hospital be a relay center for HIV patients.
International Medical Corps has been offering HIV testing free of charge. So far this year, 1,951 people have been counseled and tested in Djohong and Meiganga. We have also introduced condom use as an HIV prevention strategy. While condom use was not readily accepted in the communities previously, thanks to our advocacy sessions, people are now taking and asking for condoms. We have distributed 12,439 female condoms and 41,815 male condoms so far this year.
International Medical Corps also works to prevent mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV by offering testing to pregnant women, and referring those who test positive to the nearest health clinic for treatment. For International Women’s Day this year, we teamed up with health facilities to organize a sensitization campaign encouraging men to accompany their partners for antenatal care and encouraging pregnant women to give birth in health centers. During the campaign, more than one hundred couples visited our facilities.
To reach even more people, International Medical Corps organize mass sensitization campaigns that coincide with special events. For example on World Refugee Day 2012, we tested 496 people. We have also been working with students in various schools around both health districts and organized mass sensitization and voluntary testing campaigns during Youth Day last February. Meanwhile, our “Holiday without Violence and HIV” campaign reaches children between the ages of 7 and 12 with HIV prevention messages.
Further, International Medical Corps prioritizes building the capacity of local health care personnel to address HIV/ AIDS. In Djohong and Meiganga, we have trained 27 health care workers on the new PMTCT protocol and conducted trainings on HIV counseling for both medical professionals and community health workers. In addition, we have trained lab technicians on early testing techniques for children exposed to HIV.
Three months after the start of our program, a survey was organized in both Djohong and Meiganga health districts, which demonstrated that 87% of refugees and 93% of the host population have heard of HIV/AIDS. The survey also showed that 36% of respondents had participated in voluntary testing and counselling (VCT) at least once. Those who attended at least one HIV education health talk organized by International Medical Corps were shown to be more likely to have participated in VCT during the last 12 months than those who did not (16% versus 7% among refugees and 26% versus 9% among the host population).