HIV RESILIENCE HEROES
Clean Touch impacts many lives in South Africa
Orange Farm is a large township in Gauteng, South Africa, just outside Johannesburg, with a population of nearly 100,000. Poverty and unemployment are high here, as are HIV rates.
But Orange Farm is also a vibrant, growing place, so there are reasons for optimism here, too.
One of those reasons is Clean Touch, a local nonprofit organization that is making a marked difference in the lives of people affected by HIV and AIDS, especially children.
Clean Touch is a drop-in center, but it is much more than that too. Both at the center and in home visits, its staff does whatever it takes to help the families they serve. For those who are vulnerable to HIV, Clean Touch helps them reduce their risk. For those who are living with HIV, the organization helps them access and stay on treatment.
At Clean Touch, children can be tested for HIV and referred to nearby clinics for other health services. They can get psychosocial counselling, nutritious meals, life skills lessons and help with homework. They can take part in sports, games, book clubs, plays, music and dancing. On Saturdays, teenagers and young adults between 15 and 24 can participate in YOLO – You Only Live Once – a government-sponsored program that helps them overcome social and behavioural drivers of HIV.
In all, Clean Touch serves about 1,000 children a year.
“We are all treated the same. Whether we have parents or not, we are all equal as children.”
Aphiwe, 14 years old
Harriet Dladla, Clean Touch’s founder and manager, started the organization after members of her family became infected with HIV in the 1990s.
“I had to care for them,” she recalls. “Through this, I found that there was a need to help the community to understand HIV and reduce stigma. I feel that our work is helping, especially in destigmatizing HIV. But we still need more support from the government to reach more people and provide more services.”
For the children who come here, Clean Touch is like home, says Aphiwe, a 14-year-old boy.
“I have gained a lot of things, like confidence,” he says. “I have improved in my school work and have better knowledge about sexual health. The love and care I get here is amazing.”
What does he like most about Clean Touch?
“We are all treated the same,” he says. “Whether we have parents or not, we are all equal as children.”
Perhaps the organization’s most important success is that almost 90 percent of the people it serves have been tested for HIV and know their status. For the approximately 30 percent who test positive, Clean Touch is there with the support they need to accept their HIV status, adhere to treatment and stay healthy. This often involves working closely with families to make sure everyone understands why antiretroviral therapy, or ART, is so important.
Mbali Mbathata, a Clean Touch caregiver, says her job is its own reward.
“I have a passion to work with children,” she says. “I am grateful to have the opportunity to care for and love them in all aspects of life.”
Pact supports Clean Touch through its Government Capacity Building and Support (GCBS) program. GCBS is a partnership between USAID’s PEPFAR program, the South African government’s Department of Social Development, and Pact. GCBS works specifically to improve services for orphans, vulnerable children, adolescents and youth to reduce the spread of HIV, to help them manage their health if they are HIV-positive, to know their status and to be educated about HIV.