Author: baldwl

I-TECH Establishes External Advisory Board

In August 2022, the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) named the first members of an external advisory board (EAB). With decades of combined experience in infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases, mental health, global development, strategy, and public health policy, the members of I-TECH’s EAB will help drive and support I-TECH’s future strategy and direction.

“We are excited to have such an experienced group of public health professionals on our advisory board,” says Dr. Pamela Collins, I-TECH Executive Director. “I anticipate that our Board will grow over time, and we look forward to welcoming the insights and unique perspectives of these members as we move into I-TECH’s next 20 years.”

The EAB’s current members include:

  • Amie Bishop, MSW, MPH, is a Senior Research Advisor for OutRight Action International and has worked for a range of international non-governmental organizations and agencies, including DAI, FHI360, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, I-TECH, PATH, UNDP, UNICEF, and USAID.
  • Gabrielle Fitzgerald, MA, is the CEO & Founder of the Panorama Group and co-founder of the Pandemic Action Network. With decades of experience in politics, policy, and philanthropy, Gabrielle has become a recognized voice and thought leader on catalytic philanthropy, women’s leadership, and pandemic preparedness and response.
  • Patricio V. Marquez, ScM, is a consultant with World Bank Group and a Senior Associate at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. He has over 30 years of experience working in over 80 countries around the world.

For full bios, please see I-TECH’s External Advisory Board page.

I-TECH Attends IAS 24th International AIDS Conference

Members of the I-TECH Partner Network attend the IAS AIDS Conference in Montreal, Canada 29 July through 2 August 2022. L-R: Abhina Aher (I-TECH India), Fernanda Freistadt (I-TECH), Pamela Collins (I-TECH), Blessing Mushwange (Zim-TTECH), Precious Moyo (PZAT), Yao He (I-TECH). Photo Credit: I-TECH

The International AIDS Society (IAS) hosted the 24th International AIDS Conference on 29 July – 2 August 2022 in Montreal, Canada, and virtually. The theme this year was “re-engage and follow the science” to highlight that the HIV and AIDS epidemics are not over and still require significant global support. The conference brings together HIV researchers and experts for presentations and discussions on a wide-range of HIV- and AIDS-related topics.

This year, the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) and its partner network organizations participated in a number of activities at the IAS International AIDS Conference. Pamela Collins, MD, MPH, I-TECH Executive Director, participated in a pre-conference meeting panel on HIV and non-communicable disease integration hosted by the NCD Alliance. Dr. Collins’ discussion focused on the social stigma related to HIV and mental health conditions, specifically the impact stigma has on care and the role that integration has in addressing stigma.

In addition to the panel, I-TECH representatives also presented posters from programs in Côte d’Ivoire, Tanzania, and Ukraine:

Additionally, representatives from I-TECH’s partner network organizations and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) presented findings from I-TECH-supported programs in India, Malawi, and Zimbabwe:

I-TECH in Côte d’Ivoire Hosts National HIV QI Conference

On 18-19 May 2022, the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH), in collaboration with the Programme National de Lutte Contre le Sida (PNLS; National AIDS Control Program) under the coordination of the General Directorate of Health, hosted its first national HIV prevention, care, and treatment quality improvement (QI) conference in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. The conference brought together over 100 representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United States Agency for International Development, the Human Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and PEPFAR implementing partners from around the country to agree on a national approach to QI; update the national strategic plan for improving Quality, Health, and Safety; and learn about the unique QI approach being implemented by I-TECH through the Quality Improvement Solutions for Sustained Epidemic Control (QISSEC) program.

Dr. Nathalie Krou Danho

I-TECH QISSEC Project Director, Dr. Nathalie Krou Danho, describes the QISSEC approach at the National HIV QI Conference. Photo Credit: I-TECH

“This is an historic workshop. [There have been] many conversations and meetings with the PNLS/Ministry of Health and USG agencies [over the years] to gather all the stakeholders to harmonize QI interventions,” says Dr. Jean T. N’Guessan, QISSEC QI Consultant. “This national QI workshop was a success because the leadership was carried by the PNLS, the national Program to fight AIDS, and supported by I-TECH.”

The goal of the conference was to elevate QI practices on a national level and work with stakeholders to adopt and integrate the QISSEC QI approach into their own HIV prevention, care, and treatment programs to improve HIV services while identifying and addressing gaps in care (e.g., viral load monitoring, antiretroviral therapy uptake).

“In Côte d’Ivoire, all hospitals—both public and private—are required to implement continuous quality improvement for all care and services, which can lead to a one-size-fits-all approach to QI,” explains Dr. Nathalie Krou Danho, I-TECH QISSEC Project Director. “This workshop made it possible for us to identify gaps in national standards for the prevention, care, support, and treatment of HIV infection, while also providing an effective QI framework that helps clarify the roles and responsibilities of the stakeholders implementing QI initiatives across the country.”

QI interventions are often applied unilaterally across all sites regardless of analysis of the sites’ specific needs, but I-TECH’s approach tailors each QI intervention and related activities to the needs of the site according to self-identified gaps by the sites. This approach allows sites to be involved in each step of the process, reinforces skills and knowledge, and ultimately creates a sustainable approach to QI. By using the QISSEC approach, HIV programs around Côte d’Ivoire will be able to align their QI work and substantially improve HIV services, while also fulfilling PEPFAR priorities and targets.

“Since I-TECH’s approach works in collaboration with all levels (national, district, and site) of the health system pyramid, we are able to coach sites to develop a QI plan based on the identified gaps, implement it, as well as monitor and evaluate it,” says Dr. Nathalie Krou Danho. “Through data analysis of MER indicators and SIMS data, the approach takes into account the organizational improvement of the quality and the services offered to the patients.”

The QISSEC project, a five-year cooperative agreement with HRSA under PEPFAR, works with local partners to implement customized site-level QI interventions using patient-centered approaches in clinics to ensure a facility-owned and locally led response to the persistent challenges seen in HIV prevention, care, and treatment programs (e.g., HIV testing, retention, suppression, PrEP, TB prevention) and support Côte d’Ivoire in reaching the UNAIDS 95-95-95 targets. The project has initially been focused on 60 priority sites throughout the country but plans to expand to Abidjan’s 75 high-impact sites next year, bringing the total number of sites to 101.

“The QISSEC project aims to strengthen ownership of continuous QI at all levels of the health system pyramid,” says Dr. Nathalie Krou Danho. “To do this, I-TECH collaborates with all national stakeholders, including PEPFAR implementing partners and civil society organizations who can help motivate beneficiaries to take part in QI efforts and extend its QI approach to the community.”

I-TECH’S WORK IN CÔTE D’IVOIRE IS SUPPORTED BY THE HEALTH RESOURCES AND SERVICES ADMINISTRATION (HRSA) OF THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES (HHS) UNDER 1 U1NOA45176-01-00 THE CONTENT OF THIS POST IS THE AUTHOR’S AND SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED AS THE OFFICIAL POSITION OR POLICY OF, NOR SHOULD ANY ENDORSEMENTS BE INFERRED BY HRSA, HHS, OR THE U.S. GOVERNMENT.

I-TECH Presents at CROI 2022

The International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) presented findings from two I-TECH-supported programs during the 2022 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI). The annual conference took place virtually this year, from 12-16 February 2022, and brought together researchers, academics, and experts to discuss and present on scientific achievements and new research.

During the “Shifting Paradigms in HIV Testing” oral abstract session that was held on 16 February 2022, representatives from I-TECH presented two abstracts (full text linked below) that focused on findings from two HIV partner notification programs in Mozambique and Namibia:

To learn more about CROI, download conference resources, or to peruse the 2022 CROI program, please visit the CROI 2022 website.

Note: Bold name indicates presenting author.

Creating a Data Warehouse to Support COVID-19 Surveillance in Mauritius

The Digital Initiatives Group at I-TECH (DIGI) worked closely with the Mauritius Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) to implement a national laboratory information system (LIMS) using OpenELIS and expanded it to create a national-level data warehouse.

The data warehouse captures all the information that has been input into OpenELIS by the two reference labs and all ten regional flu clinics and creates real-time, easy-to-read data dashboards. These dashboards are used by the MOHW staff and public health officials to track national COVID-19 cases numbers and trace ongoing and potential outbreaks of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

DIGI continues to support MOHW with LIMS training, LIMS maintenance, and national laboratory strengthening.

Implementing a National Laboratory Information System in Mauritius

Since 2020, the Digital Initiative Group at I-TECH (DIGI)  has worked closely with the Mauritius Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) to deploy a national laboratory information management system (LIMS) using the OpenELIS platform. The LIMS connects the national reference laboratory to regional laboratories and flu clinics around the country to quickly process COVID-19 tests, as well as send results notifications to patients via text message or email.

The OpenELIS system, while implemented to support COVID-19 surveillance, was also designed to be able to support most routine lab workflows, including HIV viral load testing and other other infectious diseases (e.g., HIV, Ebola, Zika, Chikungunya), which ensures MOHW can quickly trace, respond to, and manage cases.

DIGI continues to support MOHW with LIMS training, LIMS maintenance, and national laboratory strengthening.

Optimizing the COVID-19 Testing Process at the Airport in Mauritius

As a measure to help stop the spread of COVID-19, the Government of Mauritius began requiring that all arriving passengers submit to COVID-19 health screenings upon arrival in Mauritius. To rapidly process the influx of tests and quickly notify passengers of their results, the Digital Initiatives Group at I-TECH (DIGI) worked closely with the Mauritius Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) to digitize the COVID-19 screening declaration form for all passengers arriving to the Mauritius International Airport and supported MOHW in opening a COVID-19 reference laboratory at the airport to rapidly process the tests and send notifications of COVID-19 tests passengers.

The airport laboratory is connected to the National Reference Laboratory via OpenELIS, which allows all the data captured on the digital form, such as passenger information and COVID-19 screenings/test results, to assist public health officials from all over Mauritius to carry out surveillance and contact tracing efforts.

Since opening in December 2020, the airport reference laboratory has returned over 250,000 tests and continues to process thousands of tests to passengers and citizens of Mauritius daily.

Using Project ECHO in Malawi

The Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO) Project® was developed by the University of New Mexico to improve care for underserved populations using a hub-and-spoke approach of knowledge-sharing by video-conferencing technology. The Lighthouse ECHO project provides a platform for sharing critical, timely, and life-saving information and data with health care workers (HCWs) located in different locations and facilitates peer-to-peer interactions among local, regional, and international experts using real-time, video-conferencing technology.

Lighthouse, a long-standing I-TECH implementing partner, is a World Health Organization-recognized clinic for integrated HIV prevention, treatment, and care in Malawi, serving approximately 60,000 antiretroviral therapy patients across the country. Lighthouse is an established HIV education site and has been involved in capacity building in pre- and in-service trainings for staff from the Ministry of Health as well as non-governmental organizations and implementing partners for many years.

Since April 2020, Lighthouse’s Project ECHO has conducted 67 sessions and has served 4,150 participants on COVID-19, HIV, and tuberculosis topics.

Birth Defects Surveillance in Malawi

Malawi is one of first countries in Southeast Africa to respond to the World Health Organization’s call for robust birth surveillance systems. Routine surveillance is essential for public health monitoring of pregnancy outcomes and birth defects, especially in high-HIV burden settings where women living with HIV initiate the use of antiretroviral therapy before or during pregnancy.

Since 2016, the International Training and Education Center for Health, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has supported the implementation of an active hospital-based birth surveillance system at four high-volume facilities in Malawi. To date, a total of 165,608 of births have been assessed. A subset of women are also enrolled in an ongoing nested case control study to assess associations between external birth defects and maternal exposures such as prior health conditions, medications, and environmental and lifestyle factors.

Anticipated use of these data include:

  • Establish a baseline prevalence of external birth defects in Malawi
  • Evaluate the impact of introducing new drugs for the management of HIV (e.g., dolutegravir) on the prevalence of external birth defects
  • Advocate for investment in programs and interventions to reduce the occurrence of birth defects and adverse pregnancy outcomes.