From the 27th to 29th March 2023 African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN) undertook a 3-day AHAPPY sensitization training at Naivasha Women’s Prison. The training was attended by a total of 37 participants, 7 women prison officers and 30 inmates in the correctional facility who are serving different sentences.
The seminar was targeted at meeting the needs of the prison officers and inmates which included raising awareness on HIV/AIDS, sharing with them knowledge on how HIV is transmitted, expounding on the myth and misconception related to HIV and sharing with them factual information and data that will enable them to prevent themselves from the disease and take care of those who are infected and affected by HIV.
The 3-day seminar was a continuation of “AJAN Ministry to Prison-motivation and purpose” through collaboration with the Catholic Prison Chaplaincy. Ms. Sergon began the training by giving a brief of who the Jesuits are and the work they are doing in Africa. Fr. Matambura encouraged the participants to be attentive throughout the whole session, as the training that is being undertaken positively impacts a person, he said, “It is really important that you all get to understand that you being the creatures of God, you have a big role to play in the planet you live on and care for the young people who are looking upon you for guidance.” Participants were later introduced to human dimensions covering spiritual, emotional psychosocial and physical dimensions. Where Participants were challenged by Fr. Matambura to live a well-balanced life spiritually and seek God’s guidance and intervention whenever they feel they are at their lowest point in life.
Mr. Owuoche shared knowledge on HIV, by informing the participants about different modes of HIV transmission and how the HIV virus develops in a human body until the stage where the infected person has a weak immunity. Ms. Sergon and Fr. Matambura S.J. elaborated more on how HIV attacks and destroys the immune system, “The loss of CD4 (CD4 T lymphocyte) cells makes it difficult for the body to fight off infections and certain cancers.” They pointed out that without treatment, HIV can gradually destroy the immune system and HIV infection advances to AIDS.
Participants raised key questions that dealt with myth and misconception regarding certain blood groups not being infected by HIV. In response Officer Eunice, a VCT Councilor at the Naivasha Women’s prison said, “there is no such thing as a carrier. You cannot tell if anyone is HIV positive. The way to know if someone is HIV positive is if they tell you about their status and they have had conclusive evidence from an HIV test. You cannot judge someone infected with HIV by just looking at them. The symptoms sometimes are usually of other diseases such as Hepatitis B and Tuberculosis which are easily transmitted by body fluids. If you have HIV, it is important to know if you have TB and Hepatitis B infection because HIV weakens the immune system. When a person’s immune system is weak, latent TB infection can quickly progress to TB disease. If you have HIV, it is very important to get a TB and Hepatitis B test.”
To address the question of seeking HIV treatment from one of the inmates; Fr. Matambura S.J., said, “Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a medicine which HIV-negative people can take to protect them against HIV infection either before (Pre) or after (Post) having sexual relation when you are most at risk of HIV.” Fr. Matambura continued by stating, “Unlike PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis), which is taken after a potential exposure to HIV, at least the first dose of PrEP needs to be taken before a potential HIV exposure. These drugs are usually encouraged for those individuals involved in prostitution business. Though taking PrEP correctly will reduce your risk of getting HIV, it won’t protect you against other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).” He finished by encouraging the participants to be faithful to one partner if you are in a relationship and if not to practice Abstinence till Marriage.
In encouraging the participants to understand themselves more Ms. Wanjugu covered topics on Psychosocial development of a human being and emotional dimension, where she interacted with the participants and encouraged them to embrace openness by having dialogue/conversation and creating spaces for communication so that they can find solutions to issues that are negatively affecting them psychologically and have in them positive values of self-awareness, self-control, leadership, being responsible and understanding.
To share their experiences of the training one of the inmates whose name will remain anonymous said, “We appreciate the trainers for sharing with us knowledge on HIV, the current statistics of those that are currently affected by the disease in Eastern and Southern Africa but also, we were able to gain knowledge on issues which are root causes to the problem we are currently facing. We have been able to learn and have done away with myths that they are people of a certain blood group who cannot get infected with HIV. We are going to share whatever knowledge we have gained with fellow inmates. When I get out of here, I will have the role of ensuring that I am able to share my knowledge and bring down the number of those who are infected with HIV.”
Officer Eunice in her appreciation and on behalf of other Prison officers and inmates said, “Having being part of the trainees, we have gained more knowledge, though the time was short we are still requesting the AJAN team for an extended time to cover the whole training, am sure that the training we have been offered will produce more prison officers who will be able to offer counselling services to the inmates.”
Fr. Ismael Matambura S.J., AJAN Director thanked the participants and AJAN team, where he said, “ From the response received while we were here and the attentiveness during the session, it really shows you really value our work, thank you madam Lillian for organizing this training, AHAPPY is a program offered for integral development and also for young people, the program seeks to take care of those who are infected and prevent new infections. We are also having another research program in place that is targeted at producing medicines that will be used to treat communicable diseases. We would like to see this program being productive, with your leadership we will be able to organize another extended training.”
Closing the 3-day training session was the Officer In charge Madam Jecinta who appreciated the AJAN team and thanked the participants for their cooperation.
By, Dennis Owuoche
AJAN Communications Officer