Helping People Living with HIV/AIDS Access Treatment and Navigate Social Barriers to Care in Tanzania

Graduate of PEPFAR-supported Para Social Worker Training Provides Community-level Care, Restores Hope to Underserved HIV Patients in Levolosi Village, Arusha

It was a busy morning in the usually calm village of Levolosi in the Tanzanian city of Arusha. Habiba Mbalamula, 27, and her friend Felista are going to visit a woman they had learned about from another member of the community.

The woman’s situation was dire: she had been ill for several weeks and had just been evicted from the home where she and her two children had been living.

Tanzania SW

Qualified Para Social Worker Habiba Mbalamula is using the skills she learned from the PEPFAR-supported PSW Training Program to support people living with HIV and other at-risk individuals in her community to access needed treatment, care, and support services.

During the visit, Habiba and Felista provided counsel to their new friend, encouraging her to get tested for HIV. When the young mother tested positive, they supported her on her path to treatment. They also found her a place to live, finding a community member who was able to provide not only a home, but also a piece of land to cultivate, which represents an important means to earn a living in this part of northern Tanzania.

“The primary need of my clients is empowerment in a variety of ways,” Habiba explains, stressing that removing barriers to accessing important social benefits is at the heart of her work with vulnerable individuals and families.

Habiba gained a strong foundation in the knowledge and skills she needs to provide critical support to orphans, vulnerable children, and others in need in her community through her participation in the Para Social Worker Training Program being implemented by the American International Health Alliance (AIHA) with support from the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Tanzania.

In response to a call by her village government for new community volunteer trainees, Habiba entered the program in November 2014, completing a 9-day initial course conducted by the Tanzania Institute of Social Work (ISW). This training was followed by six months of supervised field work then a week-long follow-up training to earn her certification as a Para Social Worker (PSW). Upon completion of the training, she returned home to Levolosi, a rural community that, like so many others, lacks professional social workers.

Habiba says she really appreciates that the PSW training has set her apart from other community volunteers working to support vulnerable groups by arming her with unique skills needed to handle sensitive issues and help her clients through complex social challenges.
Community members and leaders alike also appreciate Habiba’s work in supporting vulnerable groups in Levolosi, particularly people living with HIV and orphans and vulnerable children. She collaborates with other stakeholders to identify people in need and the community-based organizations or individuals that offer critical support. Habiba also provides counseling, linkages, and referrals to crucial services, such as healthcare, economic empowerment, and education.

According to Habiba, confidentiality and relationship-building are two of the most useful skills she acquired. Without these, she admits, she would not be able to effectively support her clients — many of whom face very serious and complex situations.

“I reassure them that I am with them all the way through,” Habiba states. “I do not simply identify the clients, speak to them, and leave them. I make sure they receive the care they need even beyond my purview as I work to address individual needs of vulnerable children, people living with HIV, and their households.”

AIHA, through its HIV/AIDS Twinning Center Program, has supported social work education — including the PSW Training Program — in Tanzania since 2006. With PEPFAR support, we work closely with the Tanzania Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children; ISW; and technical resource partners at Jane Addams College of Social Work and the Midwest AIDS Training and Education Center of the University of Illinois, Chicago, to support the development of a national PSW curriculum with enhanced HIV/AIDS competencies. PSWs are trained and deployed across the country to deliver psycho-social services at the community level.