Lay and peer counsellors to reduce leprosy-related stigma--lessons learnt in Cirebon, Indonesia

Lusli M, Peters RM, Zweekhorst MB, Van Brakel WH, Seda FS, Bunders JF, Irwanto

OBJECTIVE

Counselling has been identified as a promising strategy to reduce stigma. Lay and peer counsellors have provided counselling in various fields, but this has not yet been studied in the field of leprosy. The Stigma Assessment and Reduction of Impact (SARI) project in Cirebon District, Indonesia took up this endeavour. This paper describes the initial experiences based on the perspectives of the lay and peer counsellors and aims to provide lessons learnt for future initiatives.

METHODS

The selection of lay and peer counsellors was based upon pre-defined criteria such as completed junior high school and level of confidence. This study draws on the notes of seven monitoring and evaluation meetings and 21 group discussions the main researcher facilitated with the lay and peer counsellors and the notes written by the lay and peer counsellors on the sessions with their clients.

RESULTS

In total, 198 people affected by leprosy were offered counselling by the 11 lay and 12 peer counsellors; 145 accepted this offer. The other 53 either did not need counselling or did not want to participate for example due to worries about disclosure. Effective communication skills such as listening and asking effective questions were important, but also difficult to acquire for the lay and peer counsellors. Sharing personal experiences was highly appreciated by clients and stimulated a deepened reflection.

CONCLUSION

Challenges related to concealment and effective skills exist, but some people affected by leprosy and others can become effective counsellors making it at the outset a challenging but nevertheless promising intervention.