Ekialo Kiona Club: “Cyber-VCT”
To provide Mfangano communities with meaningful incentives and cover from stigma to encourage regular participation in voluntary HIV counseling and testing (VCT).
The “Cyber-VCT” Pilot is the original idea that gave birth to the Organic Health Response. In 2007, Joel Oguta offered to donate a piece of his land to build a community resource center. Before initiating construction on what would become the Ekialo Kiona Center, we hosted numerous beach meetings in villages across the island to learn more about local challenges and ideas. As we discussed possibilities for the center, we discovered an intense local enthusiasm for access to the Internet, particularly among young people. At the time, Internet access was completely unavailable on Mfangano. We also learned, that while free HIV testing was available throughout Western Kenya, few people accessed this service because of the stigma and scrutiny commonly associated with stand-along HIV testing centers in rural Kenya.
It was then that we realized that access to the Internet could provide a powerful incentive and a valid excuse for residents to participate in regular HIV counseling and testing. We decided to try combining a free community cyber-cafe with onsite Voluntary HIV counseling and testing: a unique “post-test club”. All members who joined the “club” through biannual HIV testing would receive free unlimited access to the Internet. To bring this idea to life, we spent the next 3 years constructing a unique solar-powered resource facility, recruiting qualified VCT staff, and finally designing and activating East Africa’s longest WIFI link. This link now provides high-speed internet to all EK Club members through a 90-km wireless connection from the rooftop of a skyscraper in Kisumu to a wind-powered communications tower that we built by hand on a donated piece of land on Soklo Mountain.
To date, over 3,500 EK members have joined the EK Club through the Cyber-VCT program. Members join the Ekialo Kiona Club free of charge, through a confidential HIV counseling and testing session with our full-time VCT Counselors. Members receive an EK Club Card that must be renewed every 6-months through follow-up VCT Sessions. These sessions focus on the individual concerns, questions, and risk environment of each client. Our counselors offer supportive advice, and facilitate efficient treatment referral to our partners at the nearby FACES clinic. As the EK Center has expanded beyond the cyber-cafe, we have also expanded the EK Club benefits. When EK members join the club, they take an important step towards being active contributors to their own health and the health of their community. We support these steps by maintaining the EK center as an open, multi-purpose community space that all members can utilize to pursue personal development and collective service. The EK Center remains the only, free access to highspeed Internet in the region.
By participating in a regular, confidential VCT program, EK Club Members receive the following benefits:
- Unlimited access to 15 solar-powered Inveneo workstations with 1MBS broadband connectivity
- Nightly news, movie and sports viewing in our large theater with projector
- Access to low-cost mountain bikes from our partners in Boulder, Colorado: Bikes4Humanity
- Discount tree seedlings and affordable organic produce from the EK Demo Farm
- Comprehensive HIV/AIDS support and referral services, specialized training and workshops through the Mfangano Health Net
- 24-hr Emergency Transport Services through the EK Emergency Boat and First Response Volunteer Corps