Changing attitudes as health mobile unit comes to town
By Aida Mahomed
They have their eyes glued to the screen, as if hypnotized. It is dark, and overhead, stars are already twinkling in the sky. The film is about to begin.
Some meters away Nurse Orlando Sapolae offers his services in a tent for voluntary HIV counseling and testing. About ten people form a line to see him, eight of whom women, while Olinda Escondida, a community mobilizer, chats with them about HIV prevention, condom use, the advantages of knowing their HIV status, and what to do if the result is positive or negative.
Supported by UNICEF, the Mozambican Institute of Social Communication ICS runs mobile unit activities, such as this one in Matambo, a village in Tete Province, in northern Mozambique. The mobile unit travels in rural areas, showing educational films on a giant screen, followed by debates with the audience. HIV testing and counseling is provided by skilled staff from the public health sector or local NGOs, in a tent pitched nearby.
Twenty-three-year-old João José Nangololo stands in line, calmly waiting for his turn to see the nurse. Married and a father of three children, João says he heard about HIV testing from his wife, who was tested at a health facility when she was pregnant with their youngest child.
Since HIV counseling and testing is being offered today, he says he wants to take advantage of the opportunity to get tested himself. In his mind, as the head of the family, he should have been the first to be tested, to set a good example.
“How is it possible that my wife was tested first, and I, as the head of the family, did not get the test? I also have to do the test. It's important to know if I have the disease. I'm afraid of AIDS, so I prefer to know. If I have HIV, but it's diagnosed early, I can go to the hospital to get treatment," says João.
Further back in the line is 46-year old Julia Luisa, a mother of nine. Julia’s husband works in Tete City and only returns home to the village on weekends. Julia is very much aware of the importance of knowing her HIV status.
"You know, my husband spends a week working in the city and only comes home on weekends, and you never know what can happen,” she said.
Julia has never mentioned HIV to her husband before, but now that she has spoken with the community mobilizer, she says she is going to speak with him and ask him to get tested. And Julia Luisa also has other family members in mind.
“My daughters-in-law are there, waiting for the film,” she says, pointing towards the screen. “When we get home I'll also talk to them about the need to get tested. It is good to know if you are healthy or not. Imagine having AIDS and not knowing about it.”
The film about HIV flickers to life on the screen, sharing life-saving messages that have already reached millions of people around the country. Slowly, attitudes towards the illness and to those who live with it are changing, says Julia Luisa. Before people in her community living with AIDS were completely avoided, and though discrimination is still a big problem, things are a little different today.
“Now, people try to convince anyone who is sick to seek treatment at hospital, in order to get better.”
UNICEF Mozambique has been supporting the Ministry of Health since 2005 with mobile units, which have operated in most provinces in the country, including Nampula, Cabo Delgado, Tete, Zambezia, Manica, Sofala, and Gaza, reaching more than 6 million people (by end of 2012) with life-saving messages about health, nutrition, hygiene, sanitation, child protection, and education.
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