Sofia Bandomia and her team in Portuguese-speaking Mozambique had long found it challenging to enroll men living with HIV in care and treatment. What she found 5,000 miles, 11 countries and a language away in Cote d’Ivoire changed that.
Now, the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs’ Communication for Improved Health Outcomes project, which Bandomia helps lead and is funded by USAID/PEPFAR, is having real success.
These men now have the tools to survive and thrive physically and socially thanks to the findings of recently published HIV research in French-speaking Cote d’Ivoire. The CCP-led research found that it wasn’t enough to target men with messages about their health, but addressing their masculinity concerns were just as, if not more, important.
“HIV goes beyond just having a virus and making a chronic treatment plan,” Bandomia says. “There is a lot of psychology beneath it all that previous research never focused on.” This psychology is largely based on the notion of HIV as a fatal disease and the fear that after disclosing a positive diagnosis, stigma and social death are not far behind.
Since learning about the Cote d’Ivoire work, Bandomia’s team began talking to men living with HIV about how they can maintain sexual vitality, achieve financial success and keep their social status. This new focus led to opportunities for talking with men about antiretroviral therapy and its benefits.
The change in focus has been so successful that the men themselves now refer half of all new members enrolled in Bandomia’s program. And with 95 percent of men staying in the program since January 2019, Bandomia feels more optimistic than ever about the work she’s been doing for 20 years.