PEER TO PEER PROJECT UPDATE: October 2015
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The PEER TO PEER Project started in December 2011. The team was brought together out of the desire to facilitate people living with HIV to access counseling on treatment adherence and living a long and healthy life with a chronic affection. The main idea of the project was also to empower peer educators through training and support to become expert patients and help others in the community through their work. SENS POZITIV Association is a firm believer in the GIPA principles in aiding community members becoming active and indispensable agents on all levels in their community – individual , community, regional, national and international. The project addresses people from all vulnerable groups – ethnic minorities, hospital care professionals, injecting drug users (IDUs), men having sex with men (MSM), people living with HIV (PLHIV), prisoners ( ex-) and sex workers.
At the present moment the team consists of a project coordinator, a project assistant, three HIV counselors and an accountant. The project coordinator and project assistant are experienced professionals in the HIV/AIDS field and also are formally specialized in counseling and psychotherapy. The project coordinator is an expert in facilitating the doctor-patient relationship, is integrated in many multidisciplinary teams in the two hospitals where the project activity takes place, as well as in the NGO network working in the field of HIV/AIDS and adjacent domains. The HIV counselors as well, are specialized in psychology or have undergone diverse trainings in the field.
Among the project coordinator responsibilities are training HIV counselors, facilitating their access to national and international trainings and conferences, testing the knowledge and needs of the counselors, facilitating the integration of HIV counselors in the multidisciplinary teams of “Matei Bals” Infectious Diseases Institute and the “Victor Babes” Infectious Diseases Hospital, supervising and coordinating the activity of the HIV counselors, managing rising issues along the project, providing a model of counseling and accompanying services to the other trainees.
The HIV counselors responsibilities are: participating in the in house and external trainings and supervision sessions, learning from the SENS POZITIV blog and the adequate resources indicated by the project coordinator and project assistant , asking for clarifications and detailed information when they do not understand or if the need arises in order to maintain a quality performance at their job, participating in the counseling sessions provided by the project coordinator, given that the client agrees, providing feedback to the other members of the team regarding their work and their process in the training.
The Project Assistant responsibilities are: to assist the project coordinator with the activities of the PEER TO PEER project, as well as all the other activities of the Association, to monitor the discrimination cases and to initiate collaborative work with other specialists and/or other non-profit organizations in order to aid in their resolution, press monitoring, monitoring the online SENS POZITIV activity on the blog and Facebook account; keeping an eye on the people who wish to benefit from counseling services and mentioning them to counselors, doing the inventory for ARV treatment donations, Monitoring requests for donations and sending the donations to patients, PLHIV counseling, providing support and supervision to the HIV counselors on a regular basis and whenever need arises.
The accountant responsibilities are: taking care of the financial aspect of the project, finding a legal form to be able to grant the scholarships in Romania, putting together and writing up the contracts, monthly payments, working on and archiving the financial papers of the PEER TO PEER project.
The current format of the project consists of :
Two days for each HIV counselor in the hospital. At the moment all three of them are in the “Victor Babes” Infectious Diseases Hospital working closely with dr. Luminita Ene, dr. Erscoiu Simona and dr. Cristiana Oprea.
Counseling and accompanying to the doctor of patients in “Matei Bals” Infectious Diseases Institute by the project coordinator 3 days a week, working closely with the doctors
Two hour weekly supervision session of the HIV counselor with the project assistant where hard cases are supervised, missing information and knowldge is detected and clarified.
Information clarification, support and training whenever needed from the project coordinator and project assistant for the peer educators
So far the peer educators have counseled face to face at least 200 newly admitted people who were referred to them for counseling and treatment information, that apart from the people the project coordinator counsels. In each counseling session the needs of the patients are first assessed and treatment counseling is tailored to the specific life and medical needs of the patient. The HIV counselors undergo continuous training during supervision hours to be able to adequately respond to the the patients needs.
The peer educators have established great working relationships with the hospital staff (doctors, social assistants, psychologists) and have become integrated in the multidisciplinary team that attends to the patient’s needs.
Each HIV counselor has undergone a period of training and then was asessed to see if they could provide face to face HIV counseling to patients. The asssment is done by the project assistant and the project coordinator who have the abilities to supervise and evaluate the trainees. The team is a cohesive one, always working on maintaining good communication and collaboration among themselves and with the multidisciplinary teams of professionals. It is a continous process of growth, personal development and perfection of abilities and knowledge. It is also a process of continous challenge, for example working with specific vulnerable groups (e.g. IDUs) who have very specific needs and give rise to specific issues regarding treatment counseling and adherence.
One of our most important achivements so far is the integration in the multidisciplinary teams in the hospitals. Doctors and nurses, as well as other professionals refer patients to HIV counselors for support and guidance. The work provided by the project coordinator and HIV counselors is highly needed and appreciated. The presence of HIV counselors makes a big difference not only in the life of patients but also in the life of the other professionals working with PLHIV.
Feedback from the team members:
„It’s been almost 3 years since i’ve been working in this peer-to-peer project. At first as a volunteer, I went at informing and counselling sessions while also attending supervision sessions. This experience helped me a lot to better understand the HIV problematic and how could get more involved in this field. The best feedback I received was from my friends that told me how much i grew and improved my experience as a human being every day, also my personal therapist told me that. Working with vulnerable people it’s very challenging and it’s important to remain mentally healthy, so I considered that this program helped me a lot, it was the best thing that happened to me, for both things: for my personal development as well as professionally on becoming the best HIV counselor i can be. I consider that it would help greatly if apart from the hospital work we would be able as an association to offer these services at our own place – it would provide a place where we could reach people who are not admitted in the hospital and provide continuity of care after discharge from the hospital. For the future, I would need to have more access to the conferences and I also consider important to have a cultural experience with others HIV counselors that do the same thing as we do, work and promote the GIPA principles.There is a lot of useful information, but i need a variety of methods to learn more and easier.”
„I have been engaged in the NGO since august 2014 and i have been through a process of observing and learning while shadowing another counselor and now i am at the stage where i have the capacity to counsel my patients alone. I work every Monday and Wednesday 10 to 14, but i also go on a need basis. This experience has been very helpful and continues to be by opening new learning and growing opportunities and meeting new people. I ike to believe i have gone trough a progress process – i am much more open and the hiv information are more and most important they are CORRECT. I appreciate the great working relationship that we have with the hospital doctors and most of the nurses. I feel we are principal active agents in the hospital team and this is incredibly important to patients. I consider that we need to have the possibility of our own place where the patient can receive psychological and social support, receive infromation and counseling sessions, and also provide them with the chance of knowing more PLHIV not just those admitted in the hospital”.
„ In this project I managed to progress a lot both professionally and personally, because we had good teamleader and psychological support. At first it was quite hard to cope with various cases of HIV and other related diseases such as TB that I was afraid at first.I appreciate this project because of having access to information that others do not have access or do not know about the existence of specialized websites. I feel the necessity of having our own place where we can continue the hospital actvity and hold our trainings and meetings. I believe that this project is very welcomed by the patients and very important in hospitals in Romania and helps many patients to be more aware of their condition.” (HIV counselor)
„I believe the existence of this project has allowed the HIV counselors to grow towards becoming experts in this domain. The process is ongoing and our aim is to provide each HIV counselor with the resources to become an expert in this field, confident that they are providing the best counseling that they can with the most recent knowledge and training resources at hand. Each individual has its own growth process and motivation, but overall the project has had a positive impact on the people involved. The feedback from the patients is great and the patient rate has gradually increased as communication with the hospital staff has improved. The way HIV counselors talk about their patients is empathic and realistic and the members of the team have learned to lean on each other in times of need (people dying or complex cases of co-morbidities). I think it is a great opportunity to disseminate information and provide support and i hope that in the future we will have the resources to have more people involved in this process and be able to offer the ones already in training the possibility to receive updated training and information. The need is obviously there and is evident from the patient and hospital staff feedback – the HIV counselor is not only supporting the patient with information and counseling but also the overworked medical staff who are able to use the counselors as resources themselves”. (Project assistant)