Background: HIVSA and its two sub-partners Ratang Bana Future for Children and Ikageng Itireleng AIDS Ministry together with the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) South Africa hosted a delegation of 30 Senior U.S. Congressional staff led by Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina on 23rd and 24th of February 2023. Ambassador Dr. John Nkengasong of the Office of Global AIDS Coordination and U.S. Ambassador to South Africa and Reuben E Brigety II and their staff members also participated in the site visits.
Ms. Lindiwe Zulu, the Minister of the Department of Social Development (DSD), Mr. Linton Mchunu, Director General of DSD, Mr. Nkere Skosana the Chief Director of the HIV/AIDS unit at the National DSD, Ms Bongi Buthelezi the Social Work Manager of HIV/AIDS unit at the National DSD, accompanied the delegation to showcase the successful collaboration between the South African Government and PEPFAR-funded and USAID-implemented Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) Program in the City of Johannesburg (CoJ) across two Townships (Alexandra and Soweto).
Objective: The chief objectives of the visit were to assess the impact of U.S. Government investments in the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) as PEPFAR celebrates its 20th anniversary and in anticipation of PEPFAR funding reauthorization. The delegation was able to engage with key stakeholders from the Preventing HIV/AIDS in Vulnerable Populations (PHVP) Program implemented by HIVSA and sub-partners Ratang Bana and Ikageng Itireleng, in collaboration with the DSD. They were also able to meet with program beneficiaries (adolescents and their caregivers) to learn how U.S. government (USG)-supported programs and resources have improved their health and well-being.
Context: South Africa has the largest HIV epidemic in the world, with an estimated 7.8 million people living with HIV (PLHIV), accounting for 21% of PLHIV globally. While incidence is declining each year, the HIV burden in South Africa continues to grow, particularly for children and adolescents. Nationally, there are approximately 198,311 new HIV infections estimated to occur between mid-2021 to mid-2022 with women over 15 accounting for 62.7% of all new HIV infections. While only 174,295 children and adolescents living with HIV (C/ALHIV) know their status; 54% are on treatment, and 38% are virally suppressed. South Africa needs to increase the number of children that are on Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) by 86,626 to meet the 95:95:95 target. The PEPFAR South Africa OVC Program which HIVSA is a prime partner provides a platform for effective pediatric and adolescent HIV case finding and linkages to treatment; evidence-based interventions for the prevention of HIV and sexual violence; family strengthening interventions for adolescent girls; as well as first-line support and referral for gender-based violence.
Program implementation: HIVSA and its sub-partners have been implementing the PHVP Program in collaboration with the DSD and the Department of Health (DoH) in Gauteng Province (Johannesburg, Tshwane, and Sedibeng Districts). The goal of the program is to contribute towards HIV epidemic control by enhancing the quality, comprehensiveness, and sustainability of care and support services to improve the resilience, health, and well-being of OVC, in line with the South African Government (SAG) strategic goals for health and social development. HIVSA’s implementation model is embedded in capacitating and strengthening DSD funded Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) like Ratang Bana Future for Children and Ikageng Itireleng AIDS Ministry through Technical Assistance and mentorship so that they can provide holistic service delivery to children, families, and communities they serve. To date, HIVSA has capacitated 67 CBOs/sub-partners and over 100,000 children have benefitted from the program since 2012.
The program is carried out using three distinct models: OVC Comprehensive, OVC Preventive, and OVC DREAMS Family Strengthening.
Site one: Ratang Bana Future for Children: Ratang Bana is a non-profit organization that was established in June 2010, and based in Alexandra Township. It is mainly focused on supporting and empowering vulnerable children, especially those affected and infected with HIV/AIDS. It provides psychosocial support services to children (financial, nutritional, material, counselling, prevention of drug abuse, and educational support). The organization has approximately 50 staff members led by a dynamic Manager, Ingrid Maredi.
Day 1( 23 February 2023): Delegates were welcomed by the USAID site officers, Onica Diamond and Mandisi Mabika, Minister of Social Development, Ms. Lindiwe Zulu, Yashmita Naidoo HIVSA Chief Executive Officer and Ingrid Maredi Ratang Bana’ Project Manager. The delegates were able to visit four “service” stations where they were able to interact with beneficiaries and their primary caregivers, that participated in various interventions, like Let’s Talk, the Choma Café and Vhutshilo. These interactions allowed beneficiaries to freely share their stories and experiences of how the PEPFAR program impacted their lives.
“Ntando aged 15 who is one of the adolescents living with HIV shared her story about how she was bullied in the community regarding her status, she shared how the treatment literacy sessions empowered her to stand up for herself.”
Day 2(24th February 2023): Delegates were welcomed by the USAID site officer, Jessica Mullis, Yashmita Naidoo HIVSA Chief Executive Officer and Ingrid Maredi of Ratang Bana. The second day focused on the support and services provided to Children and Adolescent living with HIV. A round table discussion with 3 adolescents living with HIV and their primary caregivers took place. Amongst them were stakeholders from the Department of Social Development and Anova. The beneficiaries took the delegates through their personal journey of living positively with HIV and highlighted the positive impact of the program on their lives. During this round table discussion, it also came out so clear how the collaboration between community partners and clinical partners was impactful to the beneficiaries and the communities serviced. It showed how the fight against HIV will be won if multiple partners/ stakeholders worked together to offer clinical and psychosocial support to the communities and individuals.
Site Two: Ikageng Itireleng AIDS Ministry
Ikageng Itireleng is a non-profit organization that was established in 2001 and based in Orlando West Soweto. The organization is focused on improving the quality of life for OVC through psychosocial support services (nutritional, educational, health, and other social support). The organization has approximately 61 staff members led by a passionate and goal-driven Program Manager, Mpolokeng Motloung.
On 23 February 2023, HIVSA hosted Senator Martin Heinrich, Senator Chris Coons, and Senator Mark Kelly, alongside their staff and DSD Officials. The delegates were able to interact and observe beneficiaries who participated in PEPFAR-funded activities through four stations, such as Vhutshilo and the Choma Café. Beneficiaries living with HIV were able to share their stories of how the program has changed their lives in dealing with stigma and discrimination, grief, and loss. Caregivers also had a chance to take the delegates through the journey of their children from the time they were not in the program up until they joined the program. They strongly mentioned the positive changes they have noticed in their children's behavior and how they adhere to treatment.
Ntando, “it is because of Choma that I have a good relationship with my mother."
Delegates were also able to witness the strong linkages between Anova and HIVSA, as one of the stations focused on HIV testing Services.
The visit was such a success, and we thank all participants involved in the preparation of the site.