Better Access to HIV Services and Family Planning through Integration
June 22, 2015
Jackie* had been feeling sick off and on for three to four months. The 32-year-old mother of three was known as the Iron Lady in her community in Monrovia, Liberia due to her energetic nature. But lately she did not have the energy she used to and was experiencing symptoms that concerned her. She described her symptoms to a health worker from an Afro-Medical Community Health and Welfare Service (ACHWS) clinic visiting her community during an outreach exercise. The health worker urged her to go to the clinic, where she went through screening, counseling and an HIV test. Jackie’s results were positive for HIV. The clinic staff referred her to a hospital for further lab work and she is now on a treatment regimen. (Photo of clinic staff courtesy of ACHWS.)
Fortunately, Jackie is able to receive her medication at the ACHWS clinic where she was tested. The hospital is far from her home and getting there requires a costly trip, which might reduce the likelihood that she would continue treatment.
ACHWS is affiliated with the Seventh Day Adventist Church and is a CCIH member. The organization’s two clinics in Monrovia provide family planning services, something Jackie is grateful for. She does not want another pregnancy and feels she has all the children she can currently support and care for, especially as she undergoes HIV treatment. The clinic provides implants, IUDs, oral contraceptives, condoms, injectables and education on how to use CycleBeads® for natural family planning. ACHWS receives family planning supplies from the Ministry of Health County Health team when stock is available, and purchases them from local pharmacies when necessary.
Gifts from God
“We believe that children are gifts from God and must be cared for with love and respect,” explains Patience Flomo, CEO of ACHWS. “If a person is not ready to have a child, he or she should have the ability to plan pregnancies. Bringing a child into the world and exposing that child to suffering, danger or hardship is not consistent with our beliefs. Being able to plan for a child through family planning is permitted by our Christian faith and demonstrates love for that child.”
According to Patience, the clinic integrates its HIV and family planning services by providing both services in the same visit. The clinic provides free family planning commodities to patients, educates them during clinic visits on the benefits of family planning and provides counseling, testing and treatment for HIV/AIDS. “We distribute free condoms to patients and make them available during clinic visits, and in the past three months we served 449 people with implants, injectables and pills,” said Patience.
Thanks to the early intervention of the clinic, Jackie is now managing her HIV. Without detection and treatment, it is likely her health would have continued to decline. Jackie is also able to avoid an unintended pregnancy, which could have been difficult for her and her children.
Protecting the Health of Women
Patience feels strongly that the clinic has an important role to protect the health of women. “Women are most vulnerable and are exposed to the risk of rape, early marriage, and HIV infection,” she said. “Women already bare a heavy burden caring for the home and children and when they are HIV-positive, they experience even greater stress. The majority of women in our community are poor, without a stable income, and are illiterate. They need to space their pregnancies to stay healthy. Maternal death is common in our communities and we are confident enabling women to space their pregnancies with family planning will help reduce maternal deaths.”
*not her real name