On the 2nd of February 2018 we received a letter from the South African Catholic Bishop’s Conference (SACBC). SACBC is our biggest donor organization that supports our NPO Tsibogang Christian Action Group currently with more than R 50,000 per month.
In this letter SACBC indicated that their biggest donor organization Aurum Institute from the United States of America had advised them that if their did not meet 100% of their targets by March 2018 they would lose their funding from Aurum. This referred especially to the number of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) and their guardians that had to be tested for HIV. That’s why SACBC in their letter demanded from us that we have to ensure that by 26.02. we should have tested 1166 OVC and 370 guardians for HIV and that this has to be properly captured in our computerized program that is linked to SACBC. If we fail to meet this target we would not be given a new contract.
In the contract with SACBC that we signed in October 2017 a total number of 1285 OVC and 420 guardians was mentioned that we need to give services to. However it was not specified how many of them had to be tested for HIV. HIV testing is just one of the services that we give to OVC and guardians. Other services include home visits, BMI Measurements, nutritionals education, TB screening , assistance with home work, lessons on HIV prevention, child protection, gender based violence and stigma and discrimination. Even referrals for access to social grants and for health problems are part of our services.
In our written reply to the letter from SACBC we complained that it is unfair to give us such high targets in such a short period of time. We were however aware that SACBC would reply that this pressure is not coming from them but rather from Aurum Institute who regard the testing for HIV as the most important service.
We therefore called for an emergency meeting of the Tlamelang Committee. In this meeting it was decided that despite the unfairness we should try by all means to meet the required targets. Itsholeng Moepi who coordinates our HIV testing services worked out a plan. Every day one ore even two campaigns were to be held in the nine regions of our project. At the time when we received the letter we had (since October 2017) tested only 482 children and 20 adults for HIV.
It was impressive to see how all our care workers did their best to convince the guardians to consent to testing for their children and for themselves. Record numbers were tested especially in Majematsho where our ELC and After School Program Rebaone is situated and in Welbedacht where our After School Centre Emmanuel is situated. At both sites more than 100 OVC were tested. Fortunately in 2016 and 2017 more than twenty of our care givers completed their training in HIV testing. It was however a challenge to get a sufficient number of test kits on short notice. We received them from the clinics that we work together with.
But it was not only about getting the HIV testing done. A even bigger challenge was to capture all the tests completely in the sophisticated computer program called ADS. It included the scanning an uploading of all consent forms. Only those who had not already been tested during the previous six months were allowed to be tested and only those who were appropriately registered in our system were counted. That gave our project manager Kesentseng Nanyane who is in charge of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) sleepless nights. Fortunately a team from SACBC helped in the capturing of data for those who had not yet been completely registered before.
On 26. 02.2018 in the afternoon we had captured 1209 OVC who had been tested and 274 guardians. That means for the children we had even surpassed the set target but for the adults we were short. Many guardians claimed that they had already tested elsewhere and refused to be tested again.
Despite that the SACBC staff were impressed about the dedication of our care workers. The present contract was extended to the month of April. At this point in time the negotiations on a long term contract between SACBC and Aurum are still ongoing but we are confident that we will eventually get a new contract from SACBC.
One can have different opinions on the use of testing children on a large scale for HIV. What we can however state is that this whole endeavour was a strengthening experience for our care workers and our staff.