In the face of disease, WORTH helps members live healthier, more secure livesMolly Derrick · September 30, 2016
Florentina Nason stands proudly holding her lifesaving medicine in the afternoon sun, surrounded by people who supported her through one of the most difficult times in her life.
Like many of her friends in rural Kituntu ward in the highlands of northern Tanzania, Florentina is HIV-positive. But she doesn’t let her status hold her back. The smile that radiates from her face projects hope for the future and an unwavering determination to be healthy and to provide a good life for her family.
But the road has not always been an easy one.
Lack of access to antiretroviral medicines and limited income to pay for transportation to and from a health center kept Florentina and her husband, Jonathan, who is also HIV-positive, from following their treatment.
Now, once a month, she wakes up at 5 a.m., before the sun has risen, to travel 31 kilometers to the nearest health center to pick up their medicine. To get there, she must hire a car to drive them along dusty, mountainous roads to the bus. Once at her final bus stop, she must walk or take another taxi to the health center. The trip costs 3,500 shillings, or about $1.50, each way.
Sometimes, the health center doesn’t have enough medicine, so Florentina turns around to make the long trek back home, only to come again that month. Once, she made the trip three times before she was able to get her pills.
At difficult times like these, Florentina knows she is not alone.
She has support from her fellow WORTH group members, most of whom are living with HIV themselves. They split medication so that she doesn’t miss days, which would increase her risk of developing drug resistance and make it harder to stay healthy.
The group was brought together by Pact’s Pamoja Tuwalee project, which supports children who are vulnerable to HIV and AIDS and their caregivers, many of whom are grandparents or other relatives. Together, groups save money, provide loans to one another and start new businesses. During their weekly meetings, they also receive vital health information about HIV prevention and treatment and proper nutrition.
Most important for Florentina’s group, called Tujiweke Wazi, is helping one another stay healthy despite their unique challenges.
“Our group name means ‘get to know yourself and your status,’” said Domitina Thomas, the group’s chair. “None of the other groups stigmatized us, but we wanted to be an independent group within our community because it helps us do things independently.”
Unlike other WORTH members, they have limited income-generating opportunities due to their HIV status. Trips to health centers can weigh heavily on their income. For Florentina, they take her away from her farm, where she raises livestock and grows fruits and vegetables to sell.
She and her husband also make concrete designs for homes and other buildings, but there isn’t a large market for them in her village and they can’t travel long distances to other areas. Most of the group members start businesses they can run from their homes, with products like crafts and crops they can sell nearby.
Although the government pays for antiretroviral treatment, care for opportunistic infections, such as pneumonia, is not covered. Many of Florentina’s fellow group members are plagued by these infections.
“Whatever profits we make, we have to spend on traveling to the ECT [health] centers,” said Domitina. “The government is looking to provide support for opportunistic infections, but they can’t support everyone.”
For Florentina, her hope for the future doesn’t waver because of the support she’s received from her WORTH group. Today, she’s healthy and able to follow proper treatment. She knows what she needs to do and eat to stay healthy.
Most important, she knows she has a safety net for when difficult times arise.