TASO-Soroti Regional Project is a consortium involving TASO, UFFCA and University Research Co., LLC (URC) that is implementing a project to accelerate Epidemic Control in Soroti region under the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The project uses a district-led Health Systems Strengthening approach to deliver its services. UFFCA is the lead partner in Key Population (KP) and Priority Population (PP) programming in the consortium and fisher communities are their target audience for service interventions. Three (3) engagement meetings have so far been conducted, one with selected key stakeholders at district and two at community level. The district meeting on 25th July 2017 was attended by political, civic and technical leaders in the district. Among the technical leaders were the District Health Officer and District Fisheries Officer. The Project Team in this activity includes, Emmy Ewiu (UFFCA), John Ambrose Ojuu, Henry Musitwa and Gregory Peter Okiira (TASO). The district team included the District Fisheries Officer, Mr. Agaja Joseph and the HIV Counselor, Mr. Denis Agiru
The community meetings took place at Akampala and Bugoi Landing sites in Ochero Sub-county on 25th and 26th July 2017 respectively. Another planned meeting in Bweyale landing site aborted due to a heavy down pour and has been pushed to this morning, 27th July 2017. At the community meetings, members shared they happiness on the coming of this project with high hopes that it will address a host of challenges they face in their communities. Top on the agenda of their concerns were access to quality health care including HIV prevention and care and economic strengthening services. The Community Chairperson of Akampala Landing site, Mr. Odongo Joseph said “am extremely happy that TASO and UFFCA have thought wise to come to work with us and confident that you will help us save lives in our community” He added that there have been other groups that have worked with them but would quickly go away without them noticing a lasting change and hoped that this time with TASO, things will be different.
The participants at both meetings urged TASO project to tap into existing resources to enhance the implementation of the project. Oscar Moses of AKampala said there are a number of them who have previously been trained by other groups and considerations should be made to include them among community peer leaders who might be identified to support in the implementation of the new project. On that issue, the Project team explained that the project will use the community-led approach to accelerate service delivery and that emphasizes engagement of communities themselves in driving the agenda.
The community members highlighted a number of issues they believe continue to drive infections and challenge them a lot and these include; poor or no disclosure among sexual partners including married couples, overriding poverty exacerbated by the recent famine in the region, heavy drinking, ready access to disposable cash, fewer number of adolescent girls who most men go for, leading to several men sharing them, more mature women than men, leading to them(women) having sexual partners, idleness for most people, unreliable supply of condoms and repulsive attitude of some health workers. The participants also noted that there is very cheap but concealed sex work going on in their area, with the price going as low as 2,000 shillings or even less. They said that it is common practice for men to have sex with two or more women in one day and they are proud about it. Asked about Men who have Sex with Men (MSM), the participants said they don’t have them in their area and would eliminate anyone who would be known to prefer that orientation. On this, the project team counseled the participants to be more accommodative to other human beings with alternative preferences.
At the close of the engagement meetings, the communities in the two landing sites elected 3 leaders each, who will be capacitated by the project to support their communities including mobilizing other volunteers to play various roles in the project implementation. Meetings with other fisher communities in the region have been planned. These will be followed by training and orientation of elected community volunteers.