USAID's Support Leads to Improved Care for Guyanese Woman with Mental Illness and HIV

USAID's Support Leads to Improved Care for Guyanese Woman with Mental Illness and HIV

Caregivers and clients at GHARP II training. Photo credit: MSH (courtesy of Mala Persaud).

Joanie, a woman from Linden, Guyana who is mentally ill, was diagnosed HIV positive in 2005. Her mental illness prevented her from accessing health services and support. Her HIV remained untreated. She rejected the attempts of relatives and friends to assist her and spent most of the day, refusing to wear clothes, on the bank of the nearby Demerara River.

The staff of Linden Care Foundation, a local non-governmental organization (NGO) working with people with HIV, attempted to navigate her into their care and support program but was unsuccessful. The Linden Care Foundation is supported by the Guyana HIV/AIDS Reduction and Prevention Program Phase II (GHARP II), a project funded by USAID and led by Management Sciences for Health.

In 2009, GHARP II and Guyana’s National AIDS Program Secretariat conducted a caregiver’s competency assessment among NGOs with the goal of improving care and support programming. The assessment identified where caregivers’ skills could be strengthened in order to ensure that clients were benefiting from the best quality of care.

In response to these findings, GHARP II and the Guyana National AIDS Program Secretariat conducted refresher trainings in palliative care skills for caregivers. The trainings focused on improving the client referral systems and expediting processes. They taught participants to follow up on referrals: to check if a client presented for the referred services and, if they did not, to contact those clients.

As a result of this training, a caregiver from the Linden Care Foundation referred and placed Joanie into effective psychiatric care and treatment in another town. While she was gone, her assigned caregiver provided the family with the psychosocial and physical support to help them prepare for Joanie’s eventual return.

Before the intervention, Joanie's husband didn’t know how to support her and had been generally overwhelmed by her condition. Because of the caregiver’s support and coaching, her husband is now able to provide the physical, emotional, and other support that Joanie needs.

After returning from treatment, Joanie showed very little evidence of her mental illness. “I am receiving all the necessary support, care, and treatment to make me well, and I am getting better day by day,” Joanie explained.

My life is now better than before, I don’t get sick like I used to, I never go to the river and people hardly recognize that I am the person who walked around in the nude. I am home with my family every day.

Several other Guyanese people spoke at length about the improvement of the quality of services received from Linden Care since the training. They praised the organization for building a strong network in the community, including with the hospitals, and providing much-needed support for clients and the community.

Mala Persaud, MA, is Health Systems Manager at Guyana HIV/AIDS Reduction Program (GHARP II).