At service Yezu Mwiza (SYM), a comprehensive care centre (for HIV, TB/HIV co-infection, malaria control, and reproductive health promotion), the number of clients seeking Voluntary HIV Counselling and Testing (VCT) services has decreased significantly since the announcement of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Burundi.
Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) services are essential to HIV prevention, care, and treatment programs. Individuals exposed to HIV infection need personalized counseling and information about the disease in order to receive and accept the results of the test and what it entails, in order to initiate and maintain behavior changes to reduce the risk of transmission.
VCT is also beneficial for both HIV-positive and HIV-negative people. It reduces anxiety, awakens clients' perceptions of their vulnerability to HIV, and promotes behavior change. It facilitates early referral to care, and support services, including access to ARV treatment. It also contributes to the reduction of self-stigma and self-discrimination of infected people in the community.
Today, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of fear among the population, they are even afraid to go to health facilities because they are afraid of contracting this disease. The number of those who come for voluntary testing has decreased significantly, for example by comparing the first 5 months for 2019, that service received 414 clients while for the same period in 2020, only 295 came for voluntary counselling, and testing services.
"We try to reassure them as much as we can, by showing them that preventive measures such as (handwashing at the entrance of the structure, disinfectants in all services, wearing masks, and respecting social distancing) have been put in place to avoid any kind of contamination here at Service Yezu Mwiza. But it's really unfortunate to see that out of fear, the client doesn't pay much attention during the counselling session and wants the session to end quickly so that he can leave the structure," says Amandine. K, a clinical psychologist at SYM.
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