HIV Community Heroes

Speeches Shim

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Peer Navigators help people learn about their HIV status and begin treatment.

East Kazakhstan borders Russia and China and has two large historical and cultural centers: the cities of Ust’ Kamenogorsk and Semey.

HIV IN THE REGION 

East Kazakhstan is one of the largest regions in the country. It is rich with pristine natural beauty, mineral resources and thriving industries. It is also home to the highest number of prisons and people who inject drugs; both associated with increased HIV risk as well as decreased treatment retention. As of July 31, 2020 nearly 3,200 people living with HIV were registered and only 70 percent of those had received treatment. In March 2020, the local Narcology Center reported that there are around 3,500 injecting drug users. In reality, there are even more, since people avoid registering at the medical facilities due to the stigma associated with it.

PEER NAVIGATORS: WHO ARE THEY?

People understand each other best when they have faced similar situations. This is why personal experience and peer support are key to successfully helping people to change behavior that could potentially harm themselves or others. The USAID Central Asia Flagship activity has its own group of heroes, 156 Peer Navigators in Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan who help people living with HIV stay healthy and protect their families.

If asked what motivates them to help others, most Peer Navigators would say it’s because they know HIV is not a barrier to happiness. They are HIV positive, they are also healthy and energetic. This helps them to model and promote healthy behaviors such as HIV treatment adherence. Not only do people living with HIV feel healthier when adhering to treatment, but doing so can also suppress the level of HIV in the body so that the virus is no longer transmittable to others.

“Kolya, my Peer Navigator, gave me the desire to live. I trust him because he quit using drugs himself. He helped me start HIV and Hepatitis C treatment and I am so happy to be cured of Hepatitis C. I also understand now the importance of HIV treatment and adherence in order to stay healthy,” says Galina, a beneficiary of the USAID Central Asia Flagship activity. 

STRATEGY TO REDUCE THE EPIDEMIC 

In addition to personal experience, the right set of skills is also important. The USAID Central Asia HIV Flagship activity trains its Peer Navigators to counsel people living with HIV to seek and stay on treatment. This counseling usually includes an understanding of key barriers that may prevent a person from starting and adhering to treatment. These may be fear of disclosing their HIV status to their families or discomfort with communicating with a doctor. As part of their routine work,Peer Navigators meet with their clients and guide them through seeking health services and prepare them for HIV treatment.

Community-based support is aimed to contribute to achieving the 90-90-90 UNAIDS goals. By 2020, 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90% of all people with HIV will receive treatment, 90% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression. 

TREATMENT IS LIFE 

“I met a few Peer Navigators when I was in prison and they continued to support me after I was released. I did not believe in HIV treatment and did not start right away, this negatively affected my immunity. I got pneumonia. Natalia, my Peer Navigator, invited me to a support group where other guys shared their stories. She helped me believe and start treatment. Natalia also helped me join the substitution therapy program to treat my drug addiction,” says Yura, a beneficiary.

PEER-TO-PEER EDUCATION 

Sharing accurate information about HIV and treatment is the key to reducing stigma towards HIV. Peer Navigators talk to people and explain the importance of early treatment initiation and adherence to maintain good health and prevent further HIV transmission.

Earlier diagnosis means quicker treatment initiation, ultimately saving people’s lives. Access to medication-assisted therapy also helps former injection drug users to stay on treatment.

“In Semey, the town where I live, there are a lot of people like me - people who use drugs. Adil, my Peer Navigator, helped me believe in myself. I learned a lot about methadone therapy during training and support groups. After methadone treatment, I feel relief. Now I know it has no negative effect on HIV treatment. If we have any questions, there are a lot of people available to answer them and support us,” says Denis, a beneficiary. 

Since April 2016, the USAID Central Asia HIV Flagship activity’s Peer Navigators have helped over 2,000 people start life-saving treatment in East Kazakhstan. More than 6,400 were tested for HIV and learned their status. 366 of them received their first positive result and received medical care and community-based support.

Last updated: November 25, 2020

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