Doctors Without Borders (MSF) HIV/AIDS programme SELIBENG SA TŠEPO in Lesotho also relies on lay counsellors to ensure its effectiveness. Lay counsellors are committed community members and most often co-infected or HIV patients, who are trained to undertake non-medical tasks and responsibilities usually done by a nurse or a doctor and are devoted to helping fellow patients in their villages. They are an integral part of the programme and ensure patients adhere to treatment through regular counselling and by providing step-by-step guidance on taking the life-saving medication. But each one of the counsellors has their own story to tell.
Mahlomola arrives at the rural Masemouse mountain clinic, holding his chest x-ray and yellow medical booklet in his right hand when he joins the queue after a brisk 15 minutes of walk from his grandmother’s house where he lives. Mahlomola has been visiting the clinic regularly since 2006 when he tested HIV positive. In 2007, confronted with the challenges he faced because of his HIV status, Mahlomola completed a training course to become one of the 46 lay counsellors trained by MSF to provide HIV testing and counselling support at clinic level to patients experiencing the same difficulties he had faced after diagnosis.
But, facing up to the reality is not always easy for Mahlomola. Despite the heightened awareness about HIV and TB, stigmatisation persists and patients often are ostracised from village life as gossip spreads. Mahlomola says he has learned to tolerate the snide comments and sidelong glances people give him.
“It is my grandmother who gives me the strength. She made me realise that I am not the only person in the world who is co-infected with HIV and TB, and that I can help others like me. When I realised this, I became more motivated to be healthier and stronger, and to fight to survive,” he says.