The power of post-test clubs in Uganda
Phoebe Kasoga, Resource Mobilization Manager for Plan Uganda, recently visited the United States to participate in the 137th annual conference of the American Public Health Association.
Public health is something with which Phoebe is especially familiar: she works with communities in rural Uganda to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS and to support post-test clubs. She met with us to discuss Plan’s efforts in Uganda to support individuals, especially children, and families affected by HIV and AIDS.
What is a post-test club?
A post-test club is a place where people can be tested for HIV, and, regardless of their test result, they can take advantage of a whole suite of Plan-supported services, like access to community gardens, village savings and loans programs and vocational training.
So it’s available to people who test negative?
Yes, knowing one’s HIV status is very important because the earlier that the virus is detected, the better it can be treated, but still people are afraid to know. The post test club is so valuable because it gives people a good incentive to become aware of their status.
But that’s not all it does . . .
No, it does so much more. It is really a point of entry into the needs of the community. It is a social forum and a peer-to-peer network.
How did post-test clubs begin?
Between 2003-2004, a lot of Plan’s work was in getting people tested to discover their HIV status. But while local health clinics were provided with test kits, the problem was that there was no focus on giving people emotional and social support afterward.
The concept of post-test clubs began as people would get tested, then meet informally afterward and share their stories, their hopes and their fears. They would cook communal meals to make sure everyone got fed, and they worked on overcoming the stigma of being HIV positive. They seemed to start everywhere at once. Plan became involved to formalize the group, helping to link people who were tested with post-test clubs.
Post-test clubs provide valuable services for the community. Will-writing and Memory books began in post-test clubs.
Tell us about memory books.
They are books that HIV positive parents can write to their young babies. The parents are usually close to succumbing to AIDS, but they can be a part of their children’s lives as the child grows up. Memory books can help children get a sense for who they are and where they come from.
Read more about memory books >>
Does Plan actively run the post-test clubs?
No. These are community organizations, and they are community run and community sustained. Plan is available to give business and organizational training, but I am happy to say that post-test clubs quickly move to be self-sustainable. At the Nyalakot post-test club, Plan has moved from implementers to the club being self-sufficient.
That’s the post-test club from the first Virtual Village that Plan launched. It’s still going strong?
Yes! The people have worked very hard to create a sustainable program that benefits the whole community. The focus has been on two issues: support for formal and informal education and income-generating projects.
One of the most successful projects that they’ve worked on was the construction of a hall that serves as a community meeting place. The hall is also rented for events, weddings parties, and functions.
That sounds like something the whole community can take advantage of.
It is. There is a full kitchen, which is especially useful, since the post-test club started a vocational training program in catering. Now they have a place to earn money, and the community has a full-service hall for events and functions.
Apart from the vocational training program, what are some of the other activities?
Another successful program is the savings and loan groups. There are three of them through the Nyalakot post-test club. They meet every week and discuss funding, they take applications from people who need to borrow and take payment from people who need to give back.
What makes this project so successful?
The small loans that people get make all the difference in their lives. They can buy seeds for short-maturing crops or drought-resistant seeds — whatever the needs of the area are, depending on the time of the year. There is also more money for disposable income. And the people are very honest. If they say, “I need money to buy shingles for the roof of my house,” everybody knows them and they will see them fixing their house. The repayment rates are very good, and the village savings and loan groups are very responsible about the money.
How do other communities view post-test clubs?
Even outside areas where we work, communities are taking notice of the success of post-test clubs. They’re catching on like brush fires! They are seeing how self-starting initiatives are greatly changing lives.
What do you think is next for the Nyalakot post-test club?
We are looking into peer-to-peer training for youth. Young people who are associated with the post-test club are saying “I can influence my fellow youth.” We are looking into giving them more training on sexual and reproductive health, so that girls especially can learn the consequences of getting married too young, or having to give up school if they become pregnant. We are also working on informal education programs for girls who do become pregnant, so they can keep up their studies. Once their babies are born, the mothers can find someone to take care of the children so they can go back to school and get a good education.
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