Individuals can make a big impact on the health of their communities by mobilizing groups to address specific issues. For example, if you believe that there should be more awareness of HIV/AIDS, you could organize a community health screening event. Dr. Sandrine Talla, a general practitioner and HIV/AIDS clinical manager at Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Services, offers her advice to the YALI Network on how to mobilize community members and leaders around such events.
Question: What resources does one need to mobilize a community health screening?
Talla: I believe that the greatest resource to achieve anything in life is your enthusiasm and vision. After that, other things fall into place. These include:
- Human resources, that is, people who can serve as counselors and help perform the tests. A few volunteers with the same drive will do. HIV in Africa is still associated with a lot of stigma and a lot of misconceptions. People need to be properly counseled before and after they undergo an HIV screening test (this is called pre- and post-test counseling) and linked to care appropriately.
- Material resources, and that means posters for health education, screening test kits and other testing accessories. Sometimes, visual aids such as a computer, a projector or flip charts will help to enhance the presentation and improve audience understanding.
- Finally, you need financial resources for logistics.
Tell the YALI Network more about the power of enthusiasm.
Talla: Enthusiasm helps you generate inner strength to move on even in the face of challenges. Enthusiasm is contagious. One’s enthusiasm will provoke others to be interested in the work, and obstacles become steppingstones. This is what I meant by “other things falling in place.” Some people may not support your vision, but with enough enthusiasm, you will be able to carry on.
How do you win support from community leaders?
Talla: The first thing is to identify that there is a need for people to know their HIV status and to access medical care. Once this is done, it is always important to start with those around you, that is, friends and families who might support the work you are doing.
Then, identify the leaders of the community. Discussing these needs with the leaders first and engaging them in finding solutions will go a long way to stir up enthusiasm and support for your program.
My pastor at my local church first brought up the idea that I should educate church members about HIV/AIDS. Church leaders gave me a lot of encouragement and financial support that you need to run such activities.
We always do the disease screening free, not only for HIV, but also for some other diseases, such as hepatitis, diabetes and others. When the service is free, more people will get tested.
I intend to launch into neighboring churches when I am back home after my fellowship.
HIV/AIDS is a serious international problem, but what actions can individuals take to help their communities?
Talla: An individual can do a lot in the face of the HIV/AIDS pandemic:
- Get involved in educating the community about the disease, starting with families and friends, with emphasis on mode of transmission, prevention and treatment. Nelson Mandela reminded us that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
- Create a platform where myths and misconceptions about HIV can be corrected. Misconceptions around HIV/AIDS remain, especially in Africa. They prevent people from getting tested or even seeking care.
- Encourage parents to start sex education at home. It is still a taboo to discuss sex at the family level. This makes children get and act on wrong information, which they pick haphazardly.
- Advocate for formal education of the girl child.
- Empower the most vulnerable groups, such as women and girls.
- Organize HIV screening activities outside health care settings to do away with stigma of hospital-based testing.
- Show love and concern to those who are already sick.
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Dr. Talla is studying at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2014 as a Humphrey Fellow, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. As a Humphrey Fellow, Dr. Talla is focused on health policy improvement and coordination, monitoring and evaluation of health programs, and implementation of effective public health programs, specifically as they relate to HIV/AIDS.