One year and few months after the completion of the Improved Treatment and Care Access (ITACA) training that has been jointly organized by EATG and the Network of Low HIV Prevalence Countries (NeLP) in Warsaw in May 2016 we spoke with training participant Zoe Kakota from AIDS Solidarity Movement in Cyprus about her follow-up project "Rapid Testing Training for HIV (RaTeTH) " and the importance of the training for her work.
The project included a training visit for 6 people from community organizations in Cyprus, the AIDS Solidarity Movement Cyprus, the Cyprus Family planning Association and the Cyprus Antidrug Council, to participate in the Rapid Test Training for HIV at the Hellenic Centre for Disease Control & Prevention (HCDCP). The training was organized by the Greek CDC, “Positive Voice Greece”, the Association of People Living with HIV, and the Greek Checkpoint (Athens & Thessaloniki).
The training addressed topics around pre- and post-counselling on the prevention of HIV, Hepatitis and Syphilis and discussed new HIV guidelines on treatment and prevention, as well as provided participants with the opportunity to exchange best practices and how to approach particularly vulnerable populations, such as MSM, the ROMA community, IDU’s and sex workers.
The Cyprus team attended additional training at the Checkpoint in Athens, right after the training at the HCDCP, covering the use of HIV Rapid Testing and HIV counselling. On top of that, members of the team participated in street work, a program that disseminates free condoms and leaflets at parks and venues where MSM, sex workers and IDU meet, organized and implemented by employees and trained volunteers of Positive Voice. Another activity a member of the team took part in, was ‘shadowing’ in a drop-in Rapid Testing spot for HIV and Hepatitis, in a central square in Athens, where IDUs attend to get tested.
If you look back at the ITACA training one year after, how important was it for you?
ITACA didn’t just help me to understand the importance of the treatment cascade but also to gain important knowledge and experience, as well as become aware of the best practices globally and in Europe, regarding the type of work we are committed to carry out in Cyprus. Furthermore, it was a great chance to build collaborations, partnerships and networking.
ITACA was a significant point for me personally! It was the starting point that made me want to enrich and deepen my knowledge so to be able to empower not only myself but also others.
What were the outcomes of your follow-up project grant?
The grant helped us to realize the European Testing Week in Cyprus, with supervision from Positive Voice and the Greek Checkpoint. After this training, we were able to organize 6 outreach testing events in Nicosia, Larnaca, Limassol, and Paphos with great success. Ever since, the testing has been implemented by us, locally, sometimes with additional support from Positive Voice Greece.
The training has helped us tremendously to be able to provide rapid testing on our own. We are no longer dependent on people coming from Greece, like we used to. It is a huge achievement for us to realize local testing campaigns. It is now much easier and less expensive for ASM to continue this work.
Since then, we have conducted 723 rapid tests on our own. Six of the tests were found reactive to HIV, and 8 were found reactive to Syphilis. Our project is therefore a good example for successful empowerment by a follow-up project.
What are your next plans?
We are planning to participate to the European Testing week 2017 once again. This will be the third time, since we have been participating since 2015. Furthermore, we want to establish a Community Based Voluntary Counselling and Testing (CBVCT) Centre, in Cyprus. We haven’t managed that yet, but we have been working hard to achieve this. Until then, we are continuing the outreach testing activities.
Fundraising for the CBVCT Centre proves to be a challenge, as Cyprus is a small country and the running costs are higher, when compared to bigger populations. We have applied for funding by the Ministry of Health and already had a good meeting with the Minister, where we explained the benefits of establishing a CBVCT Centre in Nicosia. We are now waiting for a reply.
What about Treatment Cascades?
The AIDS Solidarity Movement has presented the importance of collecting data regarding the treatment cascade in Cyprus, and have had a meeting with the Administration of the local HIV reference clinic. This is the only public HIV clinic on the Island, thus everyone who is registered to the Public Health System is being treated there. Therefore, it is easier to collect, organize and analyze all the National data, compared to other countries that have a larger number of clinics. The Administration of the Clinic explained that they have already discussed the issue with the Ministry of Health, and that they are committed to establishing a system for data collection and storage. We cannot be sure of the specific time this can be achieved, but both the HIV Reference Clinic and the Ministry of Health know that we are following this up, we are willing to assist if needed, and that we want access to these data.