Ekialo Kiona Club: “Cyber-VCT”
This department provided Mfangano communities with meaningful incentives and cover from stigma to encourage regular participation in voluntary HIV counseling and testing (VCT).
The “Cyber-VCT” Pilot was 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 EK center 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 6,000 EK members have joined the EK Club through the Cyber-VCT program. Members joined the Ekialo Kiona Club free of charge, through a confidential HIV counseling and testing session with our full-time VCT Counselors. Members received an EK Club Card that would be renewed every 6-months through follow-up VCT Sessions. These sessions focused on the individual concerns, questions, and risk environment of each client. Our counselors offered supportive advice, and facilitated efficient treatment referral to our partners at the nearby FACES clinic. As the EK Center has expanded beyond the cyber-cafe, we also expanded the EK Club benefits. When EK members joined the club, they took an important step towards being active contributors to their own health and the health of their community. We supported these steps by maintaining the EK center as an open, multi-purpose community space that all members could utilize to pursue personal development and collective service.
By participating in a regular, confidential VCT program, EK Club Members received the following benefits:
- Unlimited access to 15 solar-powered Inveneo workstations with 5MBS 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 our cadre of Health Navigators and EK Emergency Boat services