Improving Access to HIV Treatment for Key Populations

Social Work

Social Worker Zaria Mwenge (left) conducts a role play exercise with a female sex worker during a recent training in Morogoro. Through lessons, group discussions, and role plays such as this one, Tanzanian social workers are learning how to work more effectively with key populations to provide psychosocial support and linkages to HIV treatment and other needed services.

Social workers in Tanzania are striving to break down stigma, discrimination, and other barriers that prevent high-risk populations from accessing comprehensive HIV prevention, treatment, and psychosocial support services.

In Tanzania and many other countries around the world, these key populations (KPs) include people who inject drugs (PWID), female sex workers (FSW), men who have sex with men (MSM), and incarcerated persons. While the country is making commendable strides in the fight against HIV/AIDS among the general population, it still has a long way to go in meeting the needs of these neglected and underserved groups of Tanzanians who continue to carry a disproportionate burden of the epidemic.

AIHA has been working to strengthen the social work profession in Tanzania since 2006, when we launched a partnership linking the Tanzania Institute of Social Work (ISW) with Jane Addams College of Social Work and the Midwest AIDS Training and Education Center (MATEC) at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

Most recently, AIHA has been working in close collaboration with Tanzania’s Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly, and Children and the Tanzania Association of Social Workers to equip the country’s social welfare workforce with up-to-date and evidence-based HIV-related competencies, including innovative ways to provide quality, client-centered services for KPs.

Since January 2016, the initiative rolled-out a training program on Comprehensive HIV and Social Welfare Interventions for Key Populations in three districts with high HIV/AIDS burden in Tanzania, Morogoro, Ilala and Shinyanga Municipal Councils. Social workers in 6 districts with the highest burden in the country will be reached by end of 2016.

Speaking at the opening of the week-long training session in Shinyanga on behalf of the Regional Medical Officer, the Regional Social Welfare Officer, Lydia Kwesijabo, said the role of social workers in supporting Key Populations is critical because their interventions not only address physical health but also socio-cultural, mental and emotional/spiritual, economic and human rights issues.

To better understand the barriers that hinder access to treatment for Key Populations and gaps that exist in the capacity of social workers to provide quality and friendly care to Key Populations, the initiative conducted a nationwide assessment prior to rolling-out the training program. The findings of the assessment are used to improve the training program, select the most suitable participants and target innovative interventions.

The capacity building program which seeks to ensure competent social workers are able to provide comprehensive HIV/AIDS interventions for target populations at communities and facilities with highest burden of the epidemic, is made possible through support from the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Tanzania.