Suhrob is a Lifeline to His Peers

Wednesday, May 27, 2020
Suhrob Idrissov used to meet with the community members in person to provide consultations but due to COVID-19 he now connects with them remotely.
Yovari Sarvar/Buzurg

Providing life-saving HIV treatment in Tajikistan despite COVID-19 restrictions.

The current situation with COVID-19 and the quarantine is challenging for everyone but it is especially difficult for our beneficiaries,” says Suhrob Idrissov who is a peer navigator for one of USAID’s HIV programs in Tajikistan that is funded by PEPFAR, and provides consultations and support to people with drug addictions, who are at risk of acquiring HIV, or already live with it.

Coronavirus restrictions such as social distancing mean that people who inject drugs and people who live with HIV cannot easily access routine care.

USAID has implemented several solutions to help, including the delivery of medicines to ensure those with compromised immune systems have supplies for at least three months. This means they can stay home to decrease their chance of COVID-19 infection. So far 2,600 people across Tajikistan have received their life-saving HIV treatment this way. Suhrob is key to this process.

“I was in a similar situation as my beneficiaries,” he explains. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was unrest in the country and opportunities were limited. Local crime syndicates needed fighters and recruited Suhrob when he was an athletic 16 or 17 year old, causing him to fall in with the wrong crowd.

“I went to college to become an agriculturalist but became a drug addict instead,” Suhrob said. “My life went into a downward spiral and at the end of it, all I was left with was heroin and my addiction. I’m so grateful I didn’t contract HIV during that time.”

Today, the 43 year old is drug-free and lives with his wife and two children in Panjakent, Tajikistan — a small city with a population of only 42,000 people — where Suhrob was born and raised. As a peer navigator, Suhrob supports people coping with drug addiction who are at risk of acquiring HIV or already living with it — from accompanying them on clinic visits to helping them stay on treatment.

Suhrob learned about USAID’s HIV flagship program, which receives funding from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, three years ago at the community-based organization Buzurg and started receiving methadone as part of medication-assisted treatment.

Once he was clean, Suhrob went to their office regularly and wanted to give back. He started working as a volunteer. In a few months, he was hired. Suhrob is now one of around 90 peer navigators who work across seven community-based organizations in close collaboration with local AIDS centers.

“Guys usually listen to me,” says Suhrob, whose sociable personality and ties to the community help with his work. “I consider it a victory if we start working with beneficiaries who haven’t contracted HIV yet.”

He worries that some people in the community are ruining their lives because they don’t have access to accurate information about HIV/AIDS. Some of them prefer to listen to misinformation provided by their friends, who say that the life-saving antiretroviral therapy used to treat HIV are actually medications used to destroy their nation and get rid of all HIV-positive people by poisoning them. For Suhrob, debunking such misinformation is the most challenging part of his job.

He also educates people who are at risk of HIV about self-test kits, using the program’s video guide as a tool to help people correctly perform the test.

HIV self-testing has been one way for people to continue to learn their HIV status despite COVID-19 restrictions. Peer navigators like Suhrob have delivered more than 500 test kits in Tajikistan since January 2020 so people can know their status and start treatment.

“When we detect HIV in our beneficiaries, I don’t know whether I should be happy or upset. It is heartbreaking but with treatment they can have fulfilling lives. This also means that if we help one person get on treatment we save other people from getting infected,” says Suhrob.

“Due to the quarantine, I stay in touch with our beneficiaries by calling them every two to three days to check up on them and provide the support they need,” says Suhrob.

During quarantine, he supports clients by providing information about COVID-19 prevention measures through online messengers and phone calls, provides reassurance, and provides food supplies as needed. In April, all of the peer navigators participated in online webinars and learned how to deliver COVID-19 messages using easy-to-understand materials developed by USAID’s project.

“I am really grateful to the people who created this program and keep it going. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I have no idea where I would’ve ended up without the support I received,” Suhrob says.

About the Author

Aigerim Begaliyeva is a Regional Development Outreach and Communications Specialist at USAID Central Asia.

Last updated: September 23, 2020

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