An innovative toolkit developed by Burnet Institute to support HIV peer counselors in Papua New Guinea is to be rolled out across the country in partnership with US NGO, FHI 360.
Designed to help people living with HIV to provide counseling, particularly for people who have been newly-diagnosed, the kit has been trialled over the past 12 months in a pilot program in clinics in Port Moresby and Mount Hagen.
Burnet Deputy Program Director (Behaviours and Health Risks), Lisa Davidson said FHI recognised the benefits of the resource and have agreed to produce it so that it can be implemented as a national program.
“We’ve had peer counselors as part of the outreach and support of people living with HIV for a long time in PNG, but there hasn’t been any ongoing support or tools that peer counselors could use to support the services they’re providing,” Ms Davidson said.
“This kit provides important information on things like diet, exercise, compliance of medication, protecting others from getting infected, how to plan for a safe pregnancy if you want to become pregnant while you’re HIV-positive, harm reduction messages, and communicating your diagnosis with others.
“It’s got a whole lot of different components that help empower a person living with HIV to manage their illness.”
Ms Davidson said the toolkit provides a consistency that’s been lacking in previous peer education in PNG, which has tended to be ad hoc, and focused on the counselor’s experience, which is not always useful.
The kit helps to switch the focus to the client, including people from a broad range of key populations, to help them to make informed decisions about their own health and the health of people close to them.
“In the end, everyone benefits – the counselors because they have structure and clarity around their role, and a better understanding which gives them a sense of empowerment, and the clients because it provides them with information that is factually correct, that’s given in a way that builds knowledge,” Ms Davidson said.
“If we want to move towards treatment compliance then we need to provide our current pool of people with really solid correct information so they understand why it’s important to be compliant and what happens if you aren’t, and how treatment compliance can protect against spreading the disease to others.”
Ms Davidson believes that because peer educators are such an important part of the care continuum, the model could be adapted effectively to other settings or countries.