Getting help and beating the stigma

The staff at the Enhancing Care Foundation office in Cape Town. Sarah Christie of Sea Point, Ayanda Marepula-Maneli of Khayelitsha, Leslie Van Rooyen of Manenberg, Anderson Ntsangani of Khayelitsha, Nkokheli Mankayi of Crossroads and in front are Thando Jack of Gugulethu and Madoda Feni of of Khayelitsha.

A foundation in De Waterkant is reaching out to the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) community offering them basic health services and social support.

The Enhancing Care Foundation (ECF) has a newly established outreach programme in different communities, which offers testing and counselling facilities.

ECF offers HIV pre- and post-testing, counselling, sterile supplies, consent material and waste disposal provided by the project, STI screenings, TB screenings and mental health screenings.

The foundation is based in KwaZulu-Natal but opened a Cape Town office in September last year.

It is busy with an outreach drive and wants to encourage people to make use of its services.

It was recently awarded a grant from Right to Care to provide comprehensive HIV prevention and testing services and support to sex and gender diverse people including the transgender community in the Cape metro area. This project has been dubbed EDGE.

Sarah Christie, project manager, said the three pillars of the organisation were research, capacity building and health systems strengthening. She said the De Waterkant-based site was the flagship office for the Western Cape.

“Our core service is to provide very compassionate, competent services to the LGBTI community. What we try to do is reach out and work very closely with the existing service providers. We feel really strongly that the best care is provided by people who are peers in the community but also have the clinical skills. That is the pulse of the organisation.

“We are trying to work with communities that have been left out
by other services and prioritise those areas,” said Ms Christie. She added: “We want to be where people are hardest to reach so we do go out.”

She said the facility was establishing an after-hours clinic so that people could come after work. “

We felt strongly that in the metro there were a lot of service providers so we lobbied to go into the rural areas as well.”

In addition to the health screenings, ECF also provides a counselling service. “It is really just social support for the LGBTI community with specific focus on youth.”

All the services offered by the centre are free.

Ms Christie said another aspect of the programme was sensitising clinics and health-care workers.

“We try to make sure that once they (patients) leave our office they are in competent hands. We want the HIV test to become a normal part of everyday care and comfortable for people to access. We think sex is a healthy part of life; we’re not here to intervene, we just want to provide people with tools and information to have the healthiest sex life possible. We are hoping with the screenings and health-care we are making that road easier for people.”

Leslie van Rooyen, a health facilitator, said the counselling services offered at the facility were very important.

“We find that the community is not going to clinics. As the outreach team, we are going to different communities and doing some awareness with our campaigns and in education. We will mobilise in all the safe spaces and test people. There is a huge problem with stigma in the communities, especially where I come from in Manenberg. They are looking for a safe space where they can be treated.”

He said the outreach programme went out into communities every week and focused on education and testing.

“The major plan is that there are counsellors and educators who work in different communities. We need those people to hear about us and come to our services and to invite us to events.”

He said the education aspect of the service was a very important part of what the foundation did.

Thando Jack, project administrator from Gugulethu, added:

“We engage with the guys, and it doesn’t only end with the HIV service testing. We also want to leave someone, changing how they do things, after having engaged with us.”

He also stressed that the individual-care approach was one important part of the centre. “We would like people to find this a safe space to come.”

He said they had recently had a meeting with other stakeholders, including the national Department of Social Development.

“They are acknowledging that the issue is there and it is something that everyone should be talking about. It is a work in progress,” he added.

For more information on the work that the ECF does, call its Cape Town office at 021 418 0977.