Religious Leaders Aid Adherence to ART

 {Photo credit: Genaye Eshetu/MSH.}Religious leaders privately counsel HIV patients outside Teklehaimanot Monastery.Photo credit: Genaye Eshetu/MSH.

When Berhe Menaso’s wife passed away seven years back, he was faced with the challenge of raising their eight children by himself. But he was sick and too weak to work on his small farm at the time, and his youngest daughter, then only 3 years old, was also very sick.

So one early morning he woke his daughter and they went together to the hospital for a checkup. They learned that they were both HIV positive. Based on the advice given to him at the health center, he then brought his seven older children to the hospital for HIV testing and found that they were all HIV negative.

After being started on antiretroviral treatment (ART), he carefully took his medicine for a number of years. However, he found it difficult to take ART on an empty stomach, stating, “I didn’t have enough food to eat, and when I take the medicine on an empty stomach, it burns my heart”. So he decided to turn to holy water as an alternative treatment, and visited the holy water site at Teklehaimanot Monastery.

At the monastery, he stopped taking his ART under the belief that taking medicine while using holy water is a sin. But after 3 days at the monastery, he heard a religious leader, Haileselassie Kalayu, during a service teach that people can take medicine simultaneously with holy water.

Berhe was surprised to hear the teaching by the religious leader, and at the end of the service, went privately to seek counsel on his situation. Haileselassie advised him to return to his health facility for care and treatment and restart his ART.

Haileselassie was one of the religious leaders trained by the Ethiopian Interfaith Forum for Development Dialogue and Action (EIFDDA), through support by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) Ethiopia Network for HIV/AIDS Treatment, Care and Support (ENHAT-CS) program, a US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)-funded initiative led by Management Sciences for Health (MSH).

Haileselassie was trained on HIV related subjects, including spiritual support to people living with HIV, and inclusion of HIV messages into his weekly community conversations, including addressing stigma and discrimination, and the importance of accessing health center services such as HIV care and support, prevention of mother to child transmission, and maternal newborn and child health.

Since ENHAT-CS started in October 2011, the program has supported EIFDDA to train over 400 religious leaders like Haileselassie.

“Following Haileselassie’s counsel, I started taking my medication properly along with holy water,” states Berhe. Currently, he works as a security guard in a school. When he couldn’t get permission from his work place to go to the health facility every month for his HIV clinic visit, a religious leader who conducts baptism at the monastery volunteered to cover for him during his absences.

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