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I recently attended a conference in Kenya. The conference was held in the Capital City Nairobi, and was titled: Integration for impact. Reproductive health and HIV services in Sub-Saharan Africa. Bridging the gap: Delivering the promise – meeting reproductive health and HIV needs.

Day 1 and 2 were divided into parallel sessions with oral poster presentations on either models of HIV integration or policy and organisational change. The focus was on how to better target key populations, increase utilisation of services and better assess integration. I attended the sessions on models of integration. Day 3 was a focus on advancing programming in reproductive health and HIV integration.

There were numerous oral presentations covering research done into assessing the need for integrating family planning and HIV services; integration of other services such as cervical cancer screening; antenatal; safer conception and counselling and reproductive health into HIV services; provision of and increasing access to integrated sexual health services for key populations such as male and MSM/MSW; and delivering integrated SRH services to people living with HIV, to name but a few.

A short video ‘In one place’ – shown at the closing ceremony – featured the case study of a woman in rural Zambia who explained her journey to access ARVs and family planning.

“I leave home at 600am and arrive at the clinic at 11.00am. Usually there is a long queue and I don’t get seen until around 2.00pm. I then start to make the journey home and sometimes I don’t get home till 9.00 or 10.00pm! ARVs are provided at a different clinic and on a different day from where and when I can access Family Planning. Therefore, I have to make a similar journey, on another day of the week – to access family planning”.

In just a few sentences, she clearly summarised the 3 days discussion around why it is important to integrate SRH/HIV particularly for women living with HIV. Why it is so important to bridge the gap between services, and how integration can impact on the both the lives of women living with HIV, and the communities they live in.

Highlights for me included, the fact that I felt very lucky to have the opportunity to  hear about what is being done on the ground in terms of integrating services; to learn from programmes in Sub Saharan Africa and to meet with researchers who are at  the forefront of advancing this key area of the response to HIV. Other highlights included the fact that I hadn’t been home in nearly a decade – prior to this trip. So it was quite nostalgic but wonderful too to be back home and to see all the mind opening progress that has been made whilst I have been away. I got a chance too to indulge in some wonderful ‘nyama choma’ roast meat – a speciality of Kenya. The weather, the food, the flora and fauna! I could go on……

Finally, one of my other highlights was having an HIV test! Yes, I had an HIV test done by the Liverpool VCT Programme who had a booth at the conference. I wanted to experience the journey that people go through at a VCT session. What information they receive and generally how the process works. The session was conducted in a very professional manner; the worker was friendly and answered all my questions. Another reason I wanted to do the test was perhaps at the back of my mind there was a tiny hope that the test might be negative! Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. And both the initial and confirmatory test both came back positive. Oh well, one can but hope eh? All in all, it was a very interesting experience.

I would like to thank GNP+ for supporting me to attend this conference.

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