The COVID-19 pandemic poses extraordinary challenges to people living with HIV in Mozambique. On 30 March 2020, the President of Mozambique issued the first presidential decree declaring a State of Emergency phase three and the government set preventative measures to curb the epidemic before it spread widely across the country.
In May 2020, the UNAIDS Country Office in Mozambique developed an initiative to ensure people living with HIV and key populations, that is, sex workers, gay men and other men who have sex with men, transgender people and people who use drugs, were supported during COVID-19. “We must support communities and networks of people living with HIV to minimize the impact of COVID-19,” said Eva Kiwango, UNAIDS Country Director in Mozambique.
In Mozambique, there are over 2.2 million people living with HIV and all needed support. The Ministry of Health and UNAIDS provided guidelines and protocols to protect communities from COVID-19 within communities, especially for people living with HIV. To that effect, UNAIDS partnered with Reckitt Benckiser (RB) to provide 10 000 hygiene kits to people living with HIV. On the 15 August 2020, the truck containing the RB kits arrived in Mozambique, the donation was received and stored in safe warehouses.
In total, 90 000 bars of Dettol soap and 30 000 bottles of Jik bleach worth USD $200 000 and 10 000 cloth face masks worth US$10 000 were distributed to ensure continuum of care for people living with HIV during COVID-19. Each kit comprised of three months’ supply of three Dettol soap bars, three bottles of Jik cleaning liquid and, a mask produced locally in Maputo and information materials on COVID-19 and HIV produced by UNAIDS, the Ministry of Health in Mozambique.
Distribution was carried out by the 17 associations of people living with HIV. They collected the kits from the warehouses and distributed to people living with HIV in the community. UNAIDS staff monitored the distribution sites to ensure orderly, regulated, and safe distributions were conducted. All COVID-19 guidelines were and only people living with HIV were beneficiaries.
People were pleased with the initiative and were eager to receive and start using their hygiene kits. Some of them said that they did not have financial support to afford such hygiene packs.
They were devasted with the high costs of disinfectants and detergent as well as enveloped in their fear of knowing COVID-19 had detrimental effects on people with co-morbidities. The packs gave them hope and encouraged them that people still care about the people living with HIV and key populations. “There has not been any initiative where us as people living with HIV have been specifically supported. Thank you UNAIDS and Reckitt Benkiser,” said Sabino (not real name) one of the leaders of the recipient PLHIV organisation.
Women living with HIV were prioritized for these distributions given their pivotal roles as gate keepers in the homes. They were pleased to have been supported in unprecedented times where they did not expect support. “We are touched and really happy that we were remembered in such a time as this,” said Matimbe (not real name) one of the recipients of the kits.
UNAIDS Mozambique will continue to work with the government and partners to ensure that people living with HIV are supported during the COVID-19 pandemic.