New academy launched to improve HIV services to MSM in Africa

A training initiative for clinicians and community workers who provide healthcare to men who have sex with men (MSM) in some of the most hostile environments in Africa was launched in early December.

Afya Academy plenaryThe first Afya Academy training session took place at the beginning of December

The Afya Academy is a joint initiative by the Alliance and Anova Health Institute, aiming to develop participants’ knowledge and skills to work with African gay men and other MSM, often in exceptionally hostile and highly prejudiced social and legal environments.

...we wanted to make a determined effort to support courageous African healthcare providers who saw the need to address the HIV and sexual health needs of African key populations, but who had never received formal training to do so.

Gavin Reid, the Alliance’s HIV Technical Lead (Key Populations), talks about how the idea of the Afya Academy was born:

“Sharing a glass of wine with Glenn [Glenn de Swardt, Global Programmes Manager at Anova Health Institute] and Shaun [Shaun Mellors, Director of Knowledge and Influence at the Alliance] on crates in an abandoned stall at ICASA 2013, the idea was crystallised that we wanted to make a determined effort to support courageous African healthcare providers who saw the need to address the HIV and sexual health needs of African key populations, but who had never received formal training to do so.”

These trainings – aiming to improve the competence of HIV and healthcare service providers for MSM in some of Africa’s most restrictive countries – were not based on a generic model but tailored to the unique realities found in each country. The trainings proved successful in increasing participants’ ‘total knowledge’ (a combination of basic psycho-social and more advanced biomedical knowledge) and in decreasing homophobic attitudes.

It was clear from feedback from participants and external partners that there was continued demand for the training. Incorporating lessons learned from the previous trainings, the Afya Academy was developed, combining the collective expertise and experience of Anova and the Alliance.

On 6-8 December the inaugural Afya Academy – with 26 participants from five countries – took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, with the additional support of two Alliance Centres: the Centre for HIV treatment hosted by Via Libre, and the Centre for HIV, health and rights of key populations hosted by Positive Vibes. The training emphasised how to reach and engage MSM in all aspects of holistic healthcare, from ensuring safety, to providing combination prevention, to ensuring HIV treatment adherence.

It was clear from feedback from participants and external partners that there was continued demand for the training.

“This represents a significant development in how we share expertise, latest innovations and best practice regarding the complexities of key populations and their sexual and social health. We look forward to developing the Afya Academy to become a major contributor to addressing HIV and sexual and reproductive health, and extending services to marginalised populations across Africa,” said Glenn de Swardt.

Feedback from participants (who preferred to be anonymous) attending the inaugural training event has been very positive:

“The training is vital for me to unpack and appreciate concepts I had heard of but didn’t understand that I will use to advocate, educate and implement health programmes in rural Uganda.”

“I learned so much about key populations and why they need our special attention.”

The Afya Academy will continue to innovate and adapt to ensure it provides regular topical training opportunities that impact practice in Africa, and will be delivered across the continent.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9eHYs7D9xs