SALT is using Telephone helpline to improve treatment of HIV/AIDS in Uganda Healthcare
By Pat Robert Larubi:
In the late 90’s HIV/AIDS debate and disclosure was a nightmare for many Ugandans. People who are tested or suspected to be living with the virus isolated themselves from the public due to the fear of being stigmatized. Disclosure was far from reality and the same vice continues to haunt the generation up to date.
This problem and other challenges led the national forum for people living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda to adopt a new trend of using mobile phones to break the cycle of shyness and access to holistic HIV/AIDS care and support through what they have coded as “Support on AIDS and Life through Telephone”: SALT
Anne Peace Baguma, the executive director, Support on AIDS and Life through Telephone in Uganda said the initiative was aimed at saving women shy away from sharing their life experiences with their spouses and those who have phones but with no access to buy credit for their phones to share their life threatening experience. “We decided to install a toll free number that cuts across all mobile networks to be able to help all class of people in our country,” Anne said. The initiative was started with funding from World Bank but it stagnated in the course of the following year due to shortage of funds. Maintenance of the helpline became a challenge due to funding issues as the association could not take care of the bills for the hotline.
With continued demand for the service, positive people who had benefited from the service decided to form their own forum that eventually led to the re-launch of SALT program again in 2013. According to Anne Peace, SALT is a program for specifically people living with HIV/AIDS and run by those infected with the scourge. When an HIV positive person talks to one another they talk from the heart because they share similar experiences. Since the re-launch of the free toll line, over 1200 calls have been registered in the last 15 days. Patients have been given valid information on HIV/AIDS, referrals and are urged to embrace medication if they are to live longer even when they are positive. Grace Namule, one of the project beneficiaries said the program is very unique because sometimes they are discriminated when they go for support services in the main stream health centres, by their mere look the doctors are irritated and sometimes others have bias. “The telephone help line remove fear, takes away stigma and discrimination because you talk freely without knowing whom you are talking to and you are actually being supported” Grace said. Annet Amono 30, an HIV positive mother, reveals she travel for a visit in Masindi from Kiryandongo when labour pain struck her where she gave birth to a baby boy. Wondering where she could access ARV’s as she had left all her medical forms she called the helpline and her issues were discussed and got support from SALT.
The helpline is accessible and available twenty four hours without no geographical barrier so people throughout the Uganda are free to call in and be supported and with the fact that we only have to call, we save our transport money and air time so it a worthy support Grace adds. Ann Peace revealed that as the support through phone helpline continues they are worried of phone related health hazards like talking for long on phone, she calling for support to establish a video call centre to address the challenge of enormous call. The same centre will also be used as a knowledge hub to address emerging trends and challenges on HIV/AIDS in Uganda healthcare.
She further added that there is a need to do health centre mapping in the Uganda to make sure the clients are referred to the right facility. This is based on the issue relating several clients calling in from different corners of the country seeking help and support. Some patient does not know where to get help. They are referred to some major hospitals but there is need for them to know where to get support in their neighbourhood
This and more such stories are the realities of the SALT program in Uganda.