Marie Stopes International Australia

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Community approach to HIV

The ‘Timor-Leste Australia Collaboration for HIV Testing and Counselling Project’ is part of the Australian aid-funded Regional HIV/AIDS Capacity Building Program linking Australian organisations with counterparts in Asia Pacific to strengthen HIV/AIDS responses.

The project was designed to train and mentor health workers to provide HIV testing and counselling through the Marie Stopes International Timor-Leste sexual and reproductive health clinic, outreach services and government health workers. The Albion Street Centre (ASC), a government health service, was the lead agency working in partnership with Marie Stopes International Timor-Leste.

As Marie Stopes International is the only organisation in Timor-Leste specialising in sexual and reproductive healthcare, it was the best choice as project partner. Marie Stopes International and ASC worked closely with the Timor-Leste Ministry of Health and other civil society partners, including those working with key populations. One of those key partners is the community support group, Estrela+.

Estrela+ was set up by Ines Lopes who was diagnosed with HIV in 2006. She was pregnant with her second child, when she fell ill with a variety of flu-like symptoms. At the time, there were no real support groups for people with HIV. In 2009, she founded Estrela+ with a group of young women also living with HIV. Estrela+ worked closely with ASC and MSI Timor-Leste to ensure the project met the needs of people living with HIV.

Although Timor-Leste’s HIV infection rate remains low; it is experiencing higher rates for some groups and districts. People who are infected with STIs can be up to 10 times more likely to acquire HIV if they are exposed to the virus through sexual contact. The provision of HIV testing and counselling through sexual and reproductive health services was identified as a critical mechanism for addressing HIV in Timor-Leste. This gave clients the option to use a service that wasn’t just for HIV.

Marie Stopes International also set up a hotline that provides information on testing, as well as other reproductive health issues. Women who wanted to avoid pregnancy and manage their fertility can use the clinics to access modern methods of contraception.

While the project finished in June 2014, MSI Timor-Leste will continue to provide free HIV testing and counseling as part of their ongoing services in sites approved by the Ministry of Health.

As a way of documenting the champions of people living with HIV, a photo essay was developed and is available from the Marie Stopes International Flickr.

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