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Success Stories

Restoring Dignity for those with HIV and AIDS

TA-NPI Dignity House Story Nontobeka Mbangi
"Everything is special at Dignity House," says patient Nontobeka Mbangi. "They treat me like a queen."

Nontobeka Mbangi was HIV-positive. Although antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) had
suppressed her viral load, a benign tumor paralyzed her from the neck down. Because she needed round-the-clock care, Nontobeka moved to Dignity House, a palliative care center in East London, South Africa that cares for AIDS patients who can't receive
care at home.

When people living with AIDS need constant or specialized care, their families turn to care centers. In East London, few such facilities exist, and those that do are often poorly staffed and too expensive for most families. Dignity House, however, provides affordable
care and professional staff who are linked to a homebased care network.

"After an HIV client was sent home sick and died in a fire, I realized how much we needed a place like Dignity House," says Dr. Ethné Schaefer, medical director at Sophumelela Centre, Inc., which runs Dignity House.

Dr. Schaefer was able to meet this need in 2008, when Sophumelela, which started as a stand-alone ARV clinic that went on to gain nongovernmental organization status, won a PEPFAR New Partners Initiative (NPI) grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention. Sophumelela used this and other donated money to open Dignity House, a nine-bed care center for critically ill AIDS patients. NPI funding also allowed Sophumelela's ARV clinic to expand services to include HIV counseling and testing, peer education, and home-based care.

The NPI grant also came with technical assistance from John Snow, Inc. (JSI) and partner Initiatives Inc., through a TA-NPI. Staff from TA-NPI worked with Sophumelela to design trainings, policies, and procedures to enhance and strengthen its systems, staff, and client services. TA-NPI's technical assistance strengthened the skills of the Sophumelela team that supports Dignity House. Since the team includes nurses, doctors, a social worker, adherence monitors, a dietician, spiritual care workers, and at times volunteers to provide occupational therapy, the TA-NPI assistance impacts the totality of a patient’s experience at Dignity House.

TA-NPI Sophumelela DH story
Dignity House, East London, South Africa.

"The referral network workshop helped me to think broader and deeper into my patients' needs," says nursing manager Helen Bunt. "The workshop put it all together in the big picture and gave a continuity of thought, from vision down to stakeholder and patient comments."

For patients like Nontobeka, who needed help with even the most basic functions, the enhanced support couldn't have been more critical. At Dignity House, patients receive the highest-quality services including fresh food and eating assistance, medical treatment, personal hygiene care, counseling, and the companionship of staff and fellow residents.

Since opening, Dignity House has supported more than 100 patients. Although its original goal was to give care and dignity to the dying, fewer than ten residents have died. The majority of patients become healthy enough to leave with an improved quality of life. Nontobeka says, "They care for me and they love their job. They are not judging me, it's amazing. There's no place like this one."

Dignity House is a successful indigenous organization working to destigmatize AIDS hospice care and is the only specialized AIDS palliative care facility in East London. TA-NPI's support has helped Dignity House strengthen its systems and staff skills, which will enable them to provide quality, specialized care for people in need for years to come.

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