Free State men who have sex with men and LGBTIQ must continue HIV treatment during lockdown

Efforts have intensified during lockdown as Free State Rainbow Seeds (FSRS), a Bloemfontein-based NGO, prioritises access to HIV treatment and care for men who have sex with men (MSM) and the LGBTIQ  community. Zenny Kgolokwane, programme manager at Free State Rainbow Seeds explains, “These communities must maintain their sexual health and not default on their treatment as they may become more vulnerable to contracting coronavirus due to their compromised immune systems.”

FSRS has collaborated with the Mangaung District where their peer educators are based at all public primary health facilities. The intention is to ensure that these healthcare visits are free from stigma and discrimination when clients arrive for screening, testing and treatment.

Efforts to keep communication lines open between their clients and the healthcare facilities is critical in getting people to adhere to their ARV treatment and continue getting screened and treated for HIV, TB, sexually transmitted infections (STI), pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and Covid-19. The whole health system must continue to work to reduce the spread of coronavirus and minimise HIV infections.

Beyond Zero delivers public health programmes throughout South Africa focussing on HIV and Aids. FSRS is its partner in the Free State. Dr Bulumko Futshane, Beyond Zero’s programme director says, “We must ensure that people living with HIV are not defaulting on their treatment due to the lockdown restrictions. We are relying heavily on our implementing partners like FSRS to be persistent in their outreach to create access for their clients.”

Kgolokwane adds, “We are determined to reach as many HIV positive men as possible and link them to treatment and counselling by offering trained social workers for those who might need support. In addition, staff are also making door-to-door visits through community mobilization programmes and distributing condom and lube and continuing with condom usage demonstrations.”

Clients seeking access to testing, care and treatment are encouraged to set up appointments via Facebook or the dedicated WhatsApp line 078 810 1784. This approach ensures that the proper social distancing requirements are met and there is no overcrowding at facilities.

FSRS teams have been trained to screen for Covid-19, which they will undertake if necessary while they do the required HIV screening and testing as well. Both tests are free, and staff are available daily from 8am to 4pm.

The Me1st WhatsApp line is available for 24/7 support on 072 637 6212.

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