Oftentimes it is a lonely place, when you’re faced with a circumstance you can not change. To many who are tested positive for HIV, it’s almost a death sentence and an end to dreams and aspirations; worse still where you are different from what the society deems as ideal. A woman in a man’s body. Intriguing I know, but it’s real and more real now than ever. People carry a label of outcast deserving death and the worst in life for being different and face the highest risk of contracting AIDS and spreading it as well. However in every scenario there is always someone that was the ‘first’. Most of the time you’re not alone but you have peers in the same predicament. All you need is a leader, someone to look up to and help you circumvent through and get the best help for your life. A Person that will help you navigate yourself through the clutter of social labels, low self esteem, harassment and abuse, healthcare, treatment and prevention; for the reason that HIV/AIDS is not the end and having a different sexual orientation is not a curse.
The importance of peer navigators can not be overemphasized. it is one of the best and efficient ways of combating the virus among KPIs especially MSM and MSW.
Having this in mind, Community Health Rights Advocacy CHeRA.on the 26th of February held a three days Peer Navigator training in Mponela, in the district of Dowa. This training encompassed facilitators from FHi360, Cedep and the ministry of health.
Among theissues discussed were.
- roles of Peer Navigators
- Qualities of a Peer Navigator
- Benefits of a Peer Navigator
- Peer Navigator code of Ethics
- communication skills
- Success indicators of a Peer Navigator
In trying to achieve its goals and objectives of promoting the acceleration of high quality HIV prevention and treatment services for KPIs, the group consisted of Men who Sleep with Men (MSM) and Male Sex Workers (MSW) which are the target group in CHeRA’s mission statement.
TheTrainings were active and engaging open and free. In their response the participants bemoaned the lack of support and trainings as these and hailed CHeRA and it partners for the initiative. Most attributed the spread of the virus to lack of such information and also fear to ‘come out’. One Andrew, a MSW stated it took him a while to accept his status and for lack of counseling and guidance he almost lost his life. As such they praised and pledged their full cooperation with CHeRA in helping them cut the spread of HIV and AIDS.
The facilitators also emphasized that Peer Navigators are not health practitioners or specialists but rather a guide to their fellow peers in following the right measures in HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment. Mysticism and hearsay were dismissed and corrected for the group. One in particular was the thought that blood O group category of people doesn’t get affected by the HIV virus and can not therefore be sick.
In a statement, Aniz Mitha who is the Executive Director, said CHeRA is thankful and grateful to their partners who made the training a success and encouraged the Peer Navigators to be vigilant and follow through what they are taught to be the touch bearers in their communities.