Treating Vulnerable Populations in South Africa

Ian MatthewsArticle, News

“People who use drugs and children are among the most vulnerable in our society.” These words were shared by Professor Harry Hausler, CEO of TB HIV Care, as a delegation from the Global Fund Private Sector Delegation (PSD) visited two of the organization’s programs in South Africa.

TB HIV Care puts integrated care at the heart of responding to TB, HIV and other major diseases. They work to prevent, find and treat TB and HIV in South Africa, and to target interventions that address the needs of populations at highest risk, such as inmates, sex workers and people who inject drugs.

Educare for kids with TB

One of the most vulnerable populations they serve are children under five living with TB, who are hospitalized for significant periods of time – from four months to a year – at a critical time in their development. Throughout their treatment, they are often confined to their cots without access to physical and mental stimulation.

Parents have a difficult time visiting for a variety of reasons, including work commitments and cost of travel to the hospital. Since the nurses and doctors are typically fully occupied taking care of the medical needs of the children, these young patients could spend months, or years, in the hospital without substantial human contact.

To address this problem, TB HIV Care has been running an informal ‘educare’ program at the Brooklyn Chest Hospital in Ysterplaat, Cape Town since 2004. Trained educare teachers and assistants get the children out of their cots and provide them with the play, touch and learning activities that are essential to their development. This time is critical in developing the children’s confidence and social skills while they are hospitalized.

Offering a warm & safe environment

Another program run by TB HIV Care is a drop-in center that serves people who use drugs in Cape Town. This population is at a high risk for blood-borne infections such as HIV and hepatitis B and C, and faces dangers associated with social marginalization as a result of the criminalization of drug use.

The services provided at this center reduce these risks by providing a package of wellness services, which includes sterile injecting equipment, opioid substitution therapy, HIV testing and screening, psychosocial services and clean washrooms. The facility also provides a warm and safe environment to give participants respite from the street and access to clean facilities.

During the visit, program participants shared their individual stories with PSD members within a small and emotional discussion group, speaking about the familial, supportive environment this center provides. Individuals discussed how their lives had drastically changed with the support and the services they received at the drop-in center, specifically opioid substitution therapy, which allowed them to reintegrate as healthy members of the community.

One person said, “I’ve learnt to respect females more and I’ve become stronger in fighting against my drug addiction.” Another shared, “[the] group helps me feel safe; the space allows me to openly speak about things I struggle dealing with on my own.”

A number of the recipients are also giving back – working with TB HIV Care to provide support to drug users in need.

The PSD was in Cape Town for its annual retreat, which provided a unique opportunity to see Global Fund-funded programs, such as the two above, in action. Prof. Hausler thanked the delegation for visiting the drop-in center and educare program, saying “we appreciate your acknowledgement of the importance of offering health services which honor the dignity of vulnerable people.”

PSD members considered these visits the highlight of the trip, and thanked TB HIV Care for the exceptional opportunity.

Expanding care

TB HIV Care has plans to apply for sustainable government funding for its educare program in order to maintain and expand the program,  providing access to more children in need. In order to do this, the organization needs advance funding to facilitate some necessary upgrades required to register for government funding. If you are interested in supporting the educare program, please click here. Your donations will be used to equip a classroom at the Brooklyn Chest Hospital in order to establish a formal Early Childhood Development center.

You can also learn more about the work of TB HIV Care and their drug treatment programs here.

Ian MatthewsTreating Vulnerable Populations in South Africa