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Feb 01
Health Systems Trust promotes the uptake of men’s health services in uMgungundlovu

By: Lunga Memela (HST Communications Engagement Lead)

An HST mobile unit is seen stationed at the popular West Street taxi-rank in Pietermaritzburg where men's health services are made available, come rain or sunshine.

Local hostels, taxi ranks, taverns and sports fields are the hotspots being targeted by a dedicated team of Health Systems Trust (HST) MINA Men's Health Campaign champions who are set in their tracks to effectively support the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health (KZN DoH) in accelerating the uptake of healthcare services among men in uMgungundlovu District and the greater province.

The Driver Mobilisers are employed by HST's flagship South Africa Sustainable Response to HIV/AIDS and TB (SA SURE PRO) project which is funded by the U.S. President's Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) programme through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for sustaining HIV/TB epidemic control. On 25 January 2023, HST's Communications Unit paid a special site visit to uMgungundlovu to get a feel for how men as the key population are responding to the district's ongoing mobile men's health clinic being offered by the MINA Campaign team. 

Mobilising men to access health care

HST's uMgungundlovu District Men's Co-ordinator, Nhlanhla Zuma (pictured above), said that they are continuously working closely in collaboration with local Ward Councillors, chiefs, iziNduna, Community Policing Forum members, and non-profit organisations such as Inkunzi Isematholeni towards eradicating social ills, especially those affecting or perpetuated by males.

Zuma is 49 years old and while he considers himself a grown man, he says that he is equally relatable to boys, adolescents, young men and senior citizens who are much older than him when they meet in the men's health fora convened through the province's ongoing MINA Campaign, the Isibaya Samadoda movement, and the Amajita programme. 

Zuma explained that HST is dedicated to supporting such KZN DoH health initiatives because the team believes that addressing men's physical, mental, emotional and sexual health issues are important for addressing a plethora of biomedical and psychosocial challenges that are prevalent in uMgungundlovu and the province.

Zuma used the example of a patient being treated and healed from a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and then returning to the health facility/HST mobile unit a month or two down the line presenting with the same STI. "No!  That means we have failed to attend to the patient holistically," he said. Zuma emphasised that health education and health promotion are the best ways to encourage behaviour change, not only among men, but throughout society as a whole.

"There are only two mobile units dedicated to men's services in uMgungundlovu; however, there are seven sub-districts in total. Because men are warm and receptive to the services that we offer, the ideal situation would be to have one mobile unit supporting each sub-district," Zuma said.

The notion that men don't like going to the clinic is a misnomer

"Life is precious. There is a generational misconception that, no matter how ill, men despise going the clinic to access health services. That is incorrect," say members of HST's MINA campaign team, Sanele Hlongwane (Driver Mobiliser and Lay Counsellor), Nqobisizwe Ngubane (Lay Counsellor), Nhlakanipho Kunene (Lay Counsellor), Nqobani Zikhali (Nurse Clinician) and Mxolisi Nene (Nurse Clinician) – pictured above. 

The team said: "We view it in good light that HST mobile units have become synonymous with HIV testing. In this way, there is less stigma associated with people (men and women) approaching a mobile unit to be tested. All men, young and old, are welcome. It's completely free-of-charge, and we also offer an array of other services including TB screening and treatment for acute conditions and STIs. We offer pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP and PrEP), we advise on voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC), male sexual and reproductive health problems, and mental health, and where necessary, we provide referral services for psychosocial, neurological and prostate cancer tests."

The team said that they are concerned about prevalent social ills including gender-based violence. They then strategise on outreach activities to mobilise men in the community to attend the mobile clinic where all societal health and wellness topics are addressed.

MINA Campaign champions Nqobani Zikhali (left) and Nhlakanipho Kunene (right) hold thumbs up with local community member, Sbusiso Mthembu (centre) after completing his health screening at an HST mobile unit.

"Testing should be a lifestyle," said Sbusiso Mthembu (36) from the Caluza suburb of Edendale, who was tested at a mobile clinic stationed at the busy West Street taxi-rank, where commuters travel from and to various parts of the province.

Mthembu encourages men to be tested whenever they come across an HST mobile clinic. He said he strongly believes in condom use. He and his partner were happy to have tested HIV-negative before they conceived their daughter. "Majita (a colloquial term for the word 'gents')! It is important to know your HIV status in order to lead a long and healthy life … Think about your kids. Think about your loved ones. We don't want to leave orphans behind."

HST Nurse Clinician, Sir Mxolisi Nene (pictured above), is a custodian for men's health services at uMgungundlovu's East Street Men's Hostel. His team renders health services targeting members of the public at a taxi-rank that is adjacent to the hostel from 14h00 to 17h00. They then move to a designated area inside the hostel to deliver services directly to hostel-dwellers from 18h00 to 20h00.

Nene said: "The hostel-dwellers find our services particularly beneficial as they no longer have to miss clinic visits and appointments because of the demands they face at work. Instead, now they return home from work to the hostel at their leisure, get a chance to freshen up, and then come down to access health services where we are good and ready to give them a listening ear."

"We, as health professionals, also get to learn from the men who attend the mobile clinic," said Nene. He said that working in the MINA Campaign has, for example, taught him not to think stereotypically about sex and sexuality. "Men do sleep with other men, and not all men who sleep with men present with feminine characteristics. What is important is for our team to educate all men about the dangers of risky sexual behaviour and to promote health holistically," he said.

Nene said that what society must understand is that men continue to bottle things up, and so the correct platforms must be created for men to speak openly about the health, emotional and mental issues they face. "Sometimes a man will approach you seemingly wanting to be screened for a minor ailment, only to find that they have been wanting so badly to talk about an STI that they have had for months, not knowing who to consult about it. The time has come for men to speak up, and to seek help without any associated stigma," Nene advised.


Well done Umgungundlovu

Well done Umgungundlovu
 on 2023-02-01 12:00 AM

 Content Editor