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National AIDS Helpline. Confidential information and Behavior counseling

TAYOA operates the National Health (Afya) AIDS Helpline (117), providing anonymous and confidential information, behavior counseling and referral services to approximately 2,000 callers a day and more than  30,000 access toll free Information through Interactive Voice Responses(IVR).The Helpline started in 2001 with a single line operating for two hours each day. It has since been scaled up in multiple phases to increase both access and quality of services. Currently, the 117 Afya/AIDS Helpline is supported by 68 permanent and freelance counselors, taking calls seven days a week. . The Helpline has a comprehensive database with wide ranging information on HIV/AIDS topics including: voluntary counseling and testing, prevention of
mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT), sexually transmitted infections, relationship guidance, gender-based violence, behavior change, and treatment opportunities.

Since the program was upgraded in 2008:

  • 4,832,000 calls have been received
  • Amongst the callers, 56% had tested for HIV
  • 80% of HIV positive callers were male
  • Youth aged 14-24 years represent 78% of all callers

Currently 117 Afya/AIDS Helpline is operating for 12 hours (from 1200hrs to midnight) seven days a week. Anyone can call, however young people aged between 14-24 years of age represents almost 78% of all callers.

On 29th November 2016, TAYOA launched National Treatment toll free Hotline (117 Afya Treatment) channel within the existing Helpline services. This specialized channel 117 Afya Treatment Hotline to support HIV cascade of care  was launched by the US Charge d’ Affaires, Virginia Blaser.

Background & Implementation Approach

The Tanzania Youth Alliance’s (TAYOA) 117 AIDS Helpline is an anonymous and confidential, toll free, national hotline based in Dar es Salaam with 224  lines operating 7 days a week from midday till midnight. The 117 AIDS Helpline employs 8 full time operators/counselor and 54 part time medical doctors and social workers to provide service to callers on HIV/AIDS,TB, STIs and PMTCT in English and Swahili. Since 2001 the 117 AIDS Helpline has played a central role in disseminating up-to-date and accurate information, quality counseling & rapid referrals to services free of charge to Tanzanians.

Under the guidance and approval of the Tanzania Communications Regulating Authority (TCRA) and Ministry of Science and Technology (MOSCT), TAYOA established telephone lines for the Helpline and SMS. All public and private telephone companies operating in the United Republic of Tanzania have donated airtime for Helpline services. Helpline operation and administrative costs are covered by PEPFAR through CDC.

Importance of 117 Afya/AIDS Helpline

  • Providing on-going COUNSELING SERVICE, the helpline is designed to create an enabling environment for those infected and affected by the virus to come to terms with it, manage undue stress, find ongoing support through referrals, and realize their overall emotional well being.

  • The REFFERAL component is designed to enable individuals to maneuver through the complex network of HIV/AIDS service providers and access the necessary information, care and support services they need.
  • Dissemination of INFORMATION through the helpline  equips individuals with the necessary knowledge to protect themselves from HIV, practice positive living if already HIV positive, change behaviors, encourage greater uptake of VCT, and support Tanzanians in accessing and adhering to antiretroviral therapy.

Counselors

Helpline counselors are responsible for providing quality telephone counseling and accurate, up-to-date information to callers. When applicable, counselors refer callers to specific resources or services in their communities. Throughout the call, counselors collect data about the caller for statistical purposes.

117 Helpline System Overview

The helpline has 8 lines to serve the public with information recorded across two databases. The first database records all incoming call statistics (call duration, time of call, call status etc. (The caller’s number is not recorded.) Each counselor using an intranet web page fills the second database. This database records specific information about each call counseling. The counselors obtain information from two sources: electronic information from the intranet database and a hard copy reference.

The 117 AIDS Helpline database tracks the number of calls received, basic demographics about callers and the main reasons for each call. Calls were analyzed for the period from October 1, 2011 to September 31, 2012 using SPSS.

Unlike many other service provision points, the National AIDS Helpline attracts significantly more men than women. A possible explanation for the discrepancy is the integration of Reproductive and Child Health (RCH) services with HIV/AIDS prevention. RCH clinics provide an opportunity for women to learn and ask questions about their sexual health. Men are less likely to seek clinical services and therefore have fewer opportunities to engage in conversation about HIV/AIDS and sexual health. It is also possible that fewer men feel comfortable openly discussing their health and find the anonymous Helpline a more attractive outlet to raise their
concerns.