Launched in February 2016, the Mbeya Referral Network (MRN) strives to optimize opportunities for increasing effective referrals of PLHIV to available ES/L/FS services. This is consistent with the objectives of LIFT II to support the creation of, and provision of ongoing technical support to the MRN. To date, MRN consists of 26 Service providers, mainly community based organizations (CBOs), Faith Based Organizations (FBOs), micro-financing/savings groups and support groups of PLHIV . The government’s Mbalizi District Designated Hospital coordinates the activities of the network.
On August 17th and 18th 2016, MRN members held an Economic Strengthening Fair (ESF) at Mbalizi District Designated Hospital. Economic Strengthening Fairs are special events held at least each quarter and they provide network members an opportunity to:
- Showcase the services that they provide
- Receive referred clients from the health facility (HF) and provide more information about the other services that clients can also benefit from
- Enroll clients for services or advise clients when they may be able to access the services at the main office of the service provider, or at a community-based service delivery point
- Refer interested clients to other services available within the network
- Provide feedback to the HF on referrals received and made.
Prior to the ESF, network members had shared information with community members about the event. This publicity resulted in many clients attending the early morning session before the start of HF processes, to listen to service providers (SPs) representatives who took turns to briefly introduce their organizations and the services they offered. This ignited an interest in clients who became keen to visit the booths of the SPs for more information. During counseling sessions with HF staff and volunteers, clients were also encouraged to take referrals to ES/L/FS services by visiting the SPs who had gathered for the ESF. HF staff and volunteers, being part of the MRN, have integrated referrals to ES/FS/L services for improved health outcomes into their nutrition and HIV counseling sessions. Clients outside the CTC and other staff from the hospital were also interested to see what was happening in the booths. IADO who mainly deal with agriculture and home gardening was part of this fair and attracted lots of clients especially on mushroom production. The recent ESF in Mbeya clearly showed that:
- By the end of the ESF, a total of 96 referrals were made (38 to men, 58 to women) by the SPs participating in the ESF. 74 of the referred clients were enrolled into services which they would access by visiting the relevant SPs at set dates. The 77.1% referral completion rate achieved during the ESF was regarded as a huge success by the network members, which was attributed to the event. The MRN members intend to hold similar events in the future and hope to reach out to more clients through referrals and enrolment into ES/L/FS services.
- Service providers and health facilities are united in making effective clinic-to-community referrals
- There is a good degree of ownership and commitment by network members, who provided resources like manpower, time and materials for the ESF
- It is important to continually raise awareness of the work of the network so that community members are keen to utilize opportunities that exist
- There is great advantage in conducting ESFs at HFs, since it reminds and motivates clients of the services available in their locality. This is important because clients are more likely to be attracted to services that are closer to them.
- To avoid confusion and having a great number of unintended people attending the fairs, publicity need not to be done using the outside media or in public where everyone sees or hears. Publicity for MRN ESF was done starting with HF staff to locate/place appointments of clients in between the two selected days, but also through SPs introducing themselves early in the morning at the waiting area. This helps in reaching a good proportion of the priority populations at a time.
A number of the strategies that helped make the Mbeya network a success was captured in the recent practitioner’s guide to referral building. The LIFT II team is continuing to look for ways to taylor lessons learned from places like Mbeya to other networks to help our stakeholders achieve ownership of their networks and raise awareness of the benefits of the project for PLHIV in all countries where LIFT II works.