Thol’ulwazi Thol’impilo HIV and AIDS Education

Thol’ulwazi brings comprehensive health care services to rural and farm communities in the districts of Mkhondo (Piet Retief) as well as the northern part of eDumbe (Paulpietersburg). Services include HIV and AIDS education, holistic counselling and testing and antiretroviral medication with regular follow up visits. These communities have very high rates of unemployment (especially amongst women and youth). Low levels of literacy and a growth in the older population intensify the burden of poverty.

The formation of Thol’ulwazi as NGO resulted from projects that were introduced in remote areas of the district of Mkhondo in 2005. The Church and Business against HIV and AIDS Initiative became aware of the needs in this area. Health facilities were great distances from rural populations and people lacked basic HIV information with the result that HIV awareness was very low. There was a high mortality rate in the community and high AIDS related stigma. The Mpumalanga Forum visited the area to explore possibilities for a church and business project. With the help of Rev Markus Kallembach, who was as missionary responsible for projects in the ELKSA (Lutheran Church), a diaconical committee for HIV and AIDS intervention was formed.

Responding to the need for more accessible health services the model of mobile clinics was developed and Thol’ulwazi was registered in 2007 as an NGO (NPO 060-243) and as Public Benefit Organisation (PBO 930032127). Presently, Thol’ulwazi operates six mobile clinics which visit over 220 sites per month, and record more than 60,000 patient visits per year. With the support of Peer Educators (Community members), Thol’ulwazi has a link between the Mobile Clinics and the Community.

During the COVID-19 epidemic Thol’ulwazi complemented its regular services with awareness and information projects as well as a food security programme.

Peer Educators

The first step, to train Peer Educators was supported by the Church and Business against HIV and AIDS Initiative. The Mpumalanga Provincial Government initially paid stipends for all peer-educators. Peer-educators were monitored and they were active and reached many people during the first years to raise awareness.

The first group of community members trained as Peer Educators

The second group of community members trained as Peer Educators

 Voluntary Counselling and Testing

Following the successful implementation of the Peer Educator programme, the next step was to encourage the Voluntary Counselling and Testing initiative on the farms in co-operation with the local Health Department. Due to logistical shortcomings and transport challenges this proved rather difficult and led to the idea of running own mobile clinic units to facilitate and improve the service to farm workers in the Piet Retief area.

Mobile Clinics

As registered NGO Thol’ulwazi could drive processes and the first functioning mobile clinic was operating in 2010. A second Mobile, sponsored by MONDI, followed in 2012 and a third Mobile in 2014. The first and third units were paid for by church funding (from Otto per Mille and the 3 regional churches in Germany) and funds from the government of North Rhine Westphalia. A fourth Mobile was introduced in 2016 and a fifth one in 2017!

Launch of the 5th Mobile Clinic on 3 March 2017 when Thol’ulwazi celebrated their 10th year.

 Wider impact

The year 2019 will be remembered as the year in which Thol’ulwazi expanded its operations into the neighbouring province of KwaZulu Natal (KZN). This was also a long-term goal of the Trust who accompanied and assisted Thol’ulwazi with the process to reach this goal since 2014.

Formal negotiations with the KZN Health Department started in 2017, when a survey was conducted by the CHABAHIVA Trust in the western part of the eDumbe Municipality, to determine the need of a mobile clinic service. The MOU was signed in June 2019 and the official launch attended by the MEC of Health, took place in September 2019. This development saw the 6th mobile clinic of Thol’ulwazi bringing health services to 21 new sites. Some of them had never been reached before.

The launch of the 6th mobile clinic. From left: Ms Siggi van Niekerk (Coordinator), Ms Simelane Zulu (MEC of Health in KZN), Mr Johann Engelbrecht (Manager) and Mr SJ Kunene (Mayor of eDumbe Municipality).

Achievements

During 2019 the six mobile clinics visited over 220 sites per month, and record more than 60,000 patient visits for the year.

Apart from these significant numbers Thol’ulwazi has achieved the following:

  • Less HIV stigma in the community
  • Less mortalities
  • Regular HIV counselling and testing is done in rural communities
  • Reliable Primary Health care in a remote rural area
  • Distribution of Anti-Retroviral medication
  • A significant group of trained and empowered Peer Educators

Johann Engelbrecht recently reported: “Over the years we have seen a steady decline of new HIV+ patients and infant mortalities due to HIV have been eradicated. A very positive development has been the distribution of chronicle medication via the mobile clinics. The general health within the communities we serve has improved significantly.”

Cooperation and support

Thol’ulwazi is a successful Public Private Partnership organisation. The Mpumalanga Provincial Government pays the costs for the staff of the mobile clinics as well as for the medication while Thol’ulwazi provides counsellors and manages and coordinates the Mobiles. A number of businesses have come on board to support Thol’ulwazi financially and in kind. Primary health care has been improved through partnership with the Department of Health while employers, community members and churches have taken ownership

Department of Health professional working on a Thol’ulwazi Mobile Clinic speaks to community members at a Mobile visit.

A whole network of programmes

“Thol’ulwazi Thol’impilo” means “gain knowledge, gain life”. The organisation forms the foundation around which a whole network of community-based programmes as well as mission activities have been developed. The Mission programme allows traditional rural people to discover God for themselves through Bible reading, while at the same time they are supported to begin a process of upliftment and self-sustainability. Complementing to this there are other programmes to empower individuals within communities to become self-sustaining and alleviate poverty, for example, Early Childhood Development and skills training. Finances of these programmes are managed separately from Thol’ulwazi’s finances.

Visit TTN for more information about the network and other areas of community interventions. Regular updates on events and developments are posted on the Thol’ulwazi Facebook Page. Email a request to Wendy to receive the monthly newsletter: “wmcseveney(at)gmail.com”.

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