The Power of a Soda: Mobilizing Communities Against HIV and AIDS

 

Reach Out Mbuya HIV/AIDS Initiative is known in Kampala as a leader in preventing and responding to high rates of HIV in Kampala. Last year, we were named HIV/AIDS Leader of the Year in our class by the Uganda AIDS Commission. The key to our success? Effective networks and mobilization practices.

Last Saturday, a broad network of Reach Out Mbuya staff, community health workers, clients, and volunteers encouraged members of the impoverished Kinawataka community to participate in a mobile clinic. We organized members of our Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) program to speak to their communities about the importance of HIV testing. While Reach Out Mbuya networks are strong and span across Kampala, we sometimes “sweeten” our mobilization practices through the promise of a soda.

Ogabe Moses—a Reach Out Mbuya Community Leader in Kinawataka—went to a local stone quarry this weekend where families harvest construction materials. The quarry workers, who harvest alongside their children, were encouraged to leave their work and test for HIV at our mobile clinic. Many workers, who were initially not interested in testing, went to the clinic after they were told there were refreshments.

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The scene at our mobile clinic in Kinawataka, an impoverished neighborhood in Kampala

At Reach Out Mbuya, we know community mobilization and involvement is cost-effective and catalytic. A soda costs 1,000 Ugandan shillings—about $0.28 USD—and helps treat many women and their children. A local volunteer or OVC expert client who donates their time to combat HIV in their communities is even more impactful. On Saturday, in total, 217 people were tested—175 of which were children.

Sodas, and our broad network of partners and community mobilizers, do more than just help people know their HIV status. They help revolutionize futures by providing same-day holistic care. Reach Out Mbuya practices a “test and treat” methodology as recommended by the Ugandan Ministry of Health. If members of the community are found to be HIV+ at our mobile clinics, they are enrolled into our program and prescribed treatment on site.

The Reach Out Mbuya network knows that driving our mobile van to communities across Kampala is not enough to encourage Ugandans to test for HIV. Mobilizers work tirelessly days before that van ever arrives to ensure that families are counselled and prepared to know their status. Through this mobilization work, and through a few boxes of soda, we have become a familiar and trusted face in the neighborhoods where we work.

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