Author: baldwl

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.

I-TECH Remembers Dr. Paul Farmer

Dr. Paul Farmer and Dr. Rachel Chapman during a discussion with UW students reflecting on equity, race, and global health.

Dr. Paul Farmer and Dr. Rachel Chapman during a discussion with UW students on equity, race, and global health. Photo by Maryska Valentine // Courtesy of UW DGH.

The International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) and its partner network were saddened to learn about the unexpected passing of Dr. Paul Farmer. He was not only a leader in the field of global health, but an inspiration to those who knew him and an advocate for social justice. His work shaped the practices of global health and touched countless lives around the world.

As a co-founder of Partners in Health (PIH), a global health and social justice organization dedicated to strengthening health systems and providing access to high-quality healthcare, Dr. Farmer worked to reduce health inequities and provide care to those most in need. He is remembered for his compassion in his humanitarian work and dedication to the PIH mission.

“I am grateful to have known Paul, and like countless others, I benefitted from his kindness, intellect, and zeal,” says Dr. Pamela Collins, I-TECH Executive Director. “This is a devastating loss for the community, but I know that his work will live on as each of us works for compassionate, equitable, and quality health care wherever we may be.”

Dr. Farmer was an inspiration to the global health community. His legacy will continue through the work of PIH and the lives he touched around the world. We thank Dr. Farmer for his life of service and dedication to global health. He will be deeply missed.

To learn more about the impact Dr. Farmer’s work, see these tributes from PIH, NPR, and New York Times.

I-TECH Supports First VACS in Namibia

The International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH), under the leadership of Government of Namibia ministries overseeing child welfare and health and in close collaboration with the Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA), UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), supported the implementation of Namibia’s first Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS).

Cover of Namibia VACS Report

The final Namibia VACS report was published by the Government of Namibia and Together for Girls, a global partnership working to end violence against children, on 28 September 2021. Photo Credit: Together for Girls: www.togetherforgirls.org/.

VACS are national surveys that measure the prevalence and impact of violence on children and youth around the world. The survey results help inform future program decisions and policy approaches to ensure the safety of children and youth. On 28 September 2021, the Day of the Namibian Child, the Government of Namibia published the final Namibia VACS report.

The survey, funded by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and led by the Ministry of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare (MGEPESW), interviewed households with children aged 13-24 years in all 14 regions of Namibia from March 2019 through June 2019.

Survey operations—including data collection by field teams, data generation, and analysis—were carried out by the NSA, the central statistical authority responsible for all official statistics in Namibia. “It has been a pleasure working together with the Ministry of Gender Equality, the University of Washington, I-TECH, and CDC on this important survey,” says Ottilie Mwazi, Namibia’s Deputy Statistician General. “Our team has learned a lot from the process and is very proud to have contributed important data that will help to improve child welfare in Namibia.”

Prior to data collection, I-TECH alongside CDC colleagues hosted a two-week training for 130 enumerators, focused on best practices for data collection, interview techniques, and key aspects of the survey protocols. In addition to supporting VACS training, I-TECH and the Ministry of Health and Social Services (MoHSS) ensured all selected enumerators were trained and certified by the Namibia Institute of Pathology to conduct HIV rapid testing so any survey respondent aged 14-24 years who did not know their HIV status and wanted a test during their interview could immediately be tested.

In total, 5,191 individual interviews among 6,042 households (86.35% overall response rate) and 3,232 HIV rapid tests were conducted as part of data collection. Any respondent testing positive for HIV during the survey was linked to psychosocial and HIV/AIDS care and support in line with well-established MoHSS guidelines and the survey protocol.

Expanding Post-Violence Clinical Care

The survey results have informed important initiatives across Namibia’s wider social welfare and health systems. MGEPESW has moved forward with drafting the National Action Plan on Violence against Children and has accelerated the training of various child welfare stakeholders such as police officers and social workers, while operationalizing the establishment of more child shelters in several regions.

“The data coming out of Namibia’s VACS have really brought home how prevalent and serious violence against children and adolescents really is,” says Helena Andjamba, Director for Child Welfare at MGEPESW. “Having these hard facts readily available has helped greatly during our policy and planning engagement with multiple stakeholders during the past year. We are now moving forward with the Ministry of Justice in drafting a new Child Justice Bill, and at the same time we are engaged with the Ministry of Education on strengthening the National School Safety Framework.”

Following the completion of the survey, the MoHSS convened a technical working group with I-TECH, the World Health Organization, UNFPA, Project Hope, and other stakeholders to coordinate and strengthen first-line post-violence clinical care in primary health care facilities across Namibia. I-TECH also supported the compilation of clinical guidance on emergency care for survivors of sexual violence and its inclusion in the 2021 edition of the Namibia Standard Treatment Guidelines published by the MoHSS.

Much of the focus during the second half of 2021 was on integrating post-gender-based violence (GBV) clinical care in MoHSS HIV/AIDS clinics and antiretroviral therapy (ART) services throughout Namibia. As part of this work, I-TECH conducted a mentorship training-of-trainers for 28 HIV clinical providers, nurses, and testing services staff. These mentors now provide ongoing technical guidance and supportive supervision to frontline health workers through monthly facility visits.

To further improve post-violence care in clinics, I-TECH compiled a GBV care implementation guide for Namibian healthcare providers. This includes elaboration of best practices, as well as a suite of materials including posters, pamphlets, job aids, and a pocket booklet for communities, clients, health workers, and health facility managers, respectively. An intimate partner violence/GBV screening tool to be administered to ART patients with persistent high viral loads is also currently being piloted in ten health facilities.

Improving Data Quality and Strengthening Capacity in Côte d’Ivoire

Through a five-year cooperative agreement with the United States (US) Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) under the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), I-TECH recently began implementing the Quality Improvement (QI) Solutions for Sustained HIV Epidemic Control (QISSEC) project in Côte d’Ivoire. This project aims to support Côte d’Ivoire in reaching the UNAIDS 95-95-95 Fast-Track Targets, which to date have not been consistently achieved with specific populations faring worse than others.

The QISSEC approach supports Côte d’Ivoire’s National AIDS Council, Côte d’Ivoire’s International Training and Education for Health (I-TECH CIV), and other implementing partners to help close HIV-related service delivery gaps across clinics and communities, aiming to reach the UNAIDS 95-95-95 targets. Initially focused on 60 priority sites throughout the country, QISSEC will work closely with local clinic- and community-based partners to implement customized site-level QI interventions; integrate community or civil society groups into QI approaches; establish national QI learning networks; and disseminate QI successes and lessons learned across the learning networks. Using this patient-centered approach, QISSEC aims to ensure a facility-owned and locally-led response to persistent challenges in patient testing, retention, and suppression.