On an island, on treatment: Accessing antiretroviral therapy to manage HIV in the remote Sigulu Islands, Uganda


Vincent receives ARVs each month from the BIWIHI health center, a nongovernmental organization supported by the STAR-EC project.
 
Vincent is a fisherman who lives on Dolwe Island, one of eleven habitable islands scattered off the southern shores of Lake Victoria in Uganda. Vincent moved to the island in 2012 from the mainland to fish on one of the many small commercial fishing boats that operate out of Dolwe’s harbor. The life of a fisherman on Dolwe is unpredictable, sometimes demanding days or even weeks of travel throughout the lake and to various ports to catch and sell fish. The work is physically demanding and often dangerous.

Although Vincent is living with HIV, he is strong and healthy enough to endure these rigors because he takes an antiretroviral drug every day that allows his immune system to function normally. Vincent gets this life saving medication each month at no cost from the BIWIHI health center, located just a short walk from his home.

BIWHI is a nongovernmental organization that receives financial and technical assistance from the USAID-funded Strengthening Tuberculosis, HIV&AIDS Responses in East Central Uganda (STAR-EC) project. Since 2010, STAR-EC has collaborated with BIWIHI and the Ministry of Health to provide the people of Dolwe with reliable HIV prevention and treatment services.

Vincent tested positive for HIV in 2004 and enrolled on ART i in his hometown on mainland Uganda. He knew that his life and health depended on taking his medication every day, but his highly mobile lifestyle made it difficult to do so. When Vincent decided to move to Dolwe for more regular work, he was unsure how he would get his medication.

Luckily, when Vincent arrived on Dolwe, he found the BIWIHI office on the busy harbor beach and registered to receive ARVs each month from the health center. He also met with a STAR-EC trained village health team member, a local volunteer enlisted to link community members to health services. The village health team member continues to check in with Vincent to make sure he is feeling okay and that he has not had any trouble with his medication.

“Staying on treatment is much easier on Dolwe,” Vincent explains. “I can walk to the health center to pick up my medication. The ARVs are always there when I go each month and visits from the village health team member remind me to take my medication and reassure me that I can get help if something goes wrong.”

Vincent’s adherence to ART allows him to live a productive life and renders him far less likely to pass the virus to his wife, who does not have HIV.

“I am very grateful that these services exist on the island. I would be badly off without them.”