Focus on – African Health Project

In 2018, our African Health Project celebrates 15 years of working with local communities to improve the health and wellbeing of all Africans in Scotland. Here we take a closer look at the work of the project, and how it has developed.

The African Health Project was first launched in Edinburgh and Lothian in 2003, in response to the needs of the growing African population in Scotland.

In the years that followed, the project added additional teams in Glasgow, Lanarkshire and Forth Valley, alongside some Scotland-wide work.

Despite a lack of specific figures for Scotland, we know that HIV disproportionately affects African communities and that late diagnosis, which can lead to health complications, is common.

These inequalities are largely driven by HIV stigma and a lack of awareness about the condition, which can sometimes be reinforced by cultural and religious beliefs. For Africans living with HIV, this stigma can lead to isolation from the community, a breakdown of relationships and negative impacts on their physical and mental health.

We are there to provide support to Africans living with HIV, helping them understand and manage their treatment, meet other people living with HIV for peer support, and talk about the condition with their family and friends.

Alongside support directly related to HIV, we also help people to address some of the broader challenges that can get in the way of staying well. This includes issues like immigration and housing, and breaking down the barriers to local services that don’t necessarily speak directly to African communities.

Alongside the impact on individuals, stigma also has an effect on the community as a whole, spreading misinformation about what it means to live with HIV and acting as a disincentive to accessing testing.

Through the African Health Project, we provide a range of work to challenge HIV myths and stigma to reduce the number of new infections.

Across the country, we offer workshops to local groups that provide the facts about HIV, get people talking about their sexual health, including condom use and PrEP, and encourage people to access community-based HIV testing. The ambition is to ensure that more people are able to know their status earlier, helping to reduce new HIV infections and allowing those living with HIV to access treatment that can help them stay healthy.

We invest a lot of time developing relationships with community groups and organisations to build trust in the service. Our staff all come from African communities, meaning they have knowledge and experience of the different cultures and can engage with communities in their own languages. Partners have said what a difference this makes in terms of trust in the information and support we provide.

One example of our community-based approach is our Health in Faith initiative, which recognises the important role that faith plays in African communities. Pastors are important community figures, and we work with these faith leaders to take conversations about HIV and sexual health to the heart of communities.

This has allowed us to deliver a range of HIV awareness and testing workshops with congregations in churches – something that wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago. As a result, this work is contributing to challenging HIV stigma, encouraging people to know their HIV status, and ensuring that people living with the condition can access the support they need to live well.

You can contact our African Health Project teams from the links below: