Red Cross home visits make a difference to people living with HIV

Olga, Russian Red Cross nurse, brings the human touch to home care service for PLHIV in Tula by regularly visiting Andrej at his home. He is living with HIV and a severe disability caused by the late diagnosis. A. Anca, IFRC

Andreea Anca, IFRC

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In Tula, a Russian town with a population of 496,659, statistics show there are 9,000 people living with HIV.

At 37, Andrej feels weak and unable to walk. Since he tested positive for HIV in December 2014, he’s been no stranger to vision loss and memory. He now lives at his parents` home, on the top floor of a four-storey, dilapidated apartment block on the outskirts of Tula. The image above his bed reveals the young and healthy man he used to be, walking arm in arm with a beautiful young woman on their wedding day. She died from AIDS.

Olga and Irina, Russian Red Cross workers, are en-route to visit Andrej. They are carefully parking at some distance from his home to avoid the curiosity of neighbours.

“He has been waiting for you,” says Andrej`s mother as she opens the door to their modest flat, greeting the two women like friends. Andrej’s face breaks into a smile when he sees the visitors.

According to his mother, Andrej`s mood always gets better after Olga and Irina`s visits.

“I always feel happy after I talk to them,” says Andrej. “It is a joy to see them coming,” he adds from his bed, where he spends most of his days.

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The human touch

A nurse and a psychologist by profession, Olga and Irina complement eachother`s support to Andrej. Irina pays attention to his psychological well-being while Olga focuses on his physical progress. They have also developed a trusting relationship with his family, helping to heal some of the social stigma that affects people living with HIV.

The Visiting Nurse Service is in high demand. The assistance includes psychosocial support, discussing treatment options, facilitating visits to the doctor, and often even helping the families navigate through complicated paperwork needed to access unemployment benefits, early retirement and housing.

The Red Cross workers often act as a buffer between the people who have no choice but to live with the disease and the often judgemental social and institutional context.

As Olga continues to carefully massage Andrej`s hands and feet, she encourages him to try and move his hands and legs as much as he can, to avoid the muscle atrophy that comes from not being able to move.

The Visiting Nurse Service is part of the Regional Health Initiative, a HIV prevention programme funded by the American Red Cross with the support of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) since 2006. Based on a pilot scheme in Irkutsk developed by the Russian Red Cross, the scheme has been rolled out in other regions as well as other countries, such as Armenia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

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