The most recent racist mass shooting in Buffalo has left yet another huge hole in the fabric of our country. We honor the memory of the ten people who lost their lives in an act of white supremist terrorism and hope for the healing of not only those wounded but also those who loved the victims, the communities that will suffer for their loss, and the national and global community that bears witness. Please remember to care for yourself during this continually challenging time.
We hold in our hearts the lives, love, and humanity connected with the names that follow—as well as countless people in the Black community who continue to be re-injured by these acts of horrific violence.
Roberta A. Drury, 32
Margus D. Morrison, 52
Andre Mackneil, 53
Aaron Salter Jr., 55
Geraldine Talley, 62
Celestine Chaney, 65
Heyward Patterson, 67
Katherine Massey, 72
Pearl Young, 77
Ruth Whitfield, 86
Zaire Goodman, 20, was released from hospital after being shot in the neck; Jennifer Warrington, 50, has also been treated; and Christopher Braden, 55, is in stable condition after being shot in the leg.
According to reports, the gunman was motivated by the so-called “Great Replacement theory,” the racist conspiracy theory that populations with white European backgrounds are being “replaced” by people of non-White, non-European descent. We must do more to combat this type of dangerous rhetoric and ongoing anti-Black violence in our communities. It is up to each of us to redress past and present injustices, find ways to meaningfully engage in work to reduce racism, and collectively contribute to safer communities and workplaces for Black people. Please see the resources below for immediate ways to take action.
Racist Terrorism in Buffalo: How the Mainstreaming of White Supremacy Puts the Nation at Risk. Thursday, May 19, 1-2 PM PT. In this presentation, anti-racist educator Tim Wise examines how overt racism has increasingly penetrated American political discourse and has contributed to terrorist violence, most recently in Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Charlottesville, El Paso and Charleston. Hosted by SpeakOut: The Institute for Democratic Education and Culture. Register here ($5-250 donation; proceeds go to Black Love Resists in the Rust).
Reading about and watching the coverage of these events can also be extremely painful. Please take care of yourselves. Please find wellness and mental health information at Mental Health America.
On April 1, the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) celebrates 20 years since its founding. It has since grown into the largest center in the Department of Global Health (DGH) and one of the largest centers at the University of Washington (UW).
“We are proud to mark this milestone,” says Dr. Pamela Collins, Executive Director of I-TECH, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and Professor of Global Health at UW. “For 20 years I-TECH has helped to save lives through its support of public health systems in the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Over the years, our scope has broadened, but responsive partnerships with ministries of health, collaborating NGOs, and our donors have been central to the work.”
I-TECH comprises a global network, operating in 17 countries, that fosters healthier communities around the world through equitable partnerships in research, training, and public health practice. Its work is rooted in health care training and draws on a culturally rich community that includes UW faculty, global partners, and U.S. and global staff and students. This community of people with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and opinions encourages learning from one another while working toward high quality, compassionate, and equitable health care.
“COVID-19 has reminded me, and many of us, about the critical and life-saving role of health care workers, a group that often lacks proper support,” says Ivonne X. “Chichi” Butler, Associate Director at I-TECH. “At the same time, collectively, we have come to understand the urgent need for stronger and better prepared health systems to respond to the COVID crisis.
“At I-TECH, these concerns have been at the heart of our work for the past 20 years,” she continues. “We have invested–and continue to invest–in health workers and in the systems in which they work. I am proud to be part of a center that has transformed the delivery of HIV care and treatment in so many countries and that truly puts individuals and communities at the forefront to meet their particular needs.”
I-TECH began in 2002 with its first award, the International AIDS Education & Training Center (IAETC) grant. The IAETC was administered by the Center for Health Education and Research (CHER), within the Department of Health Services (now the Department of Health Systems and Population Health). This was one of CHER’s first forays into what would become known as “global health.”
“The IAETC award was the first of its kind at UW,” says Shelly Tonge-Seymour, Associate Director of I-TECH, who has been with the center for 20 years, “the first to translate lessons from the U.S. to improve the training of health care workers and delivery of care globally.”
With the advent of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in 2003, I-TECH’s portfolio expanded rapidly, reflecting the evolution of PEPFAR from “emergency” to a longer-term investment in health systems strengthening. I-TECH became an official UW center in 2008, a year after joining UW’s new Department of Global Health at the invitation of Dr. King Holmes, then-chair of DGH. “It became clear that we had grown so large that we needed our own administrative core,” says Tonge-Seymour.
Through its work with PEPFAR, I-TECH’s efforts have contributed meaningfully to the huge advancements in HIV prevention, care, and treatment seen across the globe, with a particular emphasis on groups that have been marginalized or stigmatized.
“I’ve been involved with I-TECH for its entire 20 years, and the most impactful thing for me has been the contribution I-TECH has made in Zimbabwe to supporting the development of lay cadres into primary counselors,” says Abisha Jonga, Senior Program Manager at Zim-TTECH. “This program created a career path for so many, made HIV counseling services more accessible to the general population, demystified HIV testing, and shaped the individuals’ lives.”
Dr. Batsi Makunike, Executive Director of Zim-TTECH, agrees that fostering local connection has been the key to success. “I am particularly proud of the fact that I-TECH has succeeded in nurturing local organizations,” says Dr. Makunike. “Providing full support without competition–that is huge. Without I-TECH, there would be no Zim-TTECH.”
Malawi has seen its health care landscape change dramatically in the past 20 years and is now close to meeting the UNAIDS 95-95-95 targets for the elimination of HIV. Since 2008, I-TECH has partnered with the Malawi Ministry of Health’s Department for HIV and AIDS and helped to generate pioneering policy initiatives such as the 2011 adoption of Option B+ for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV. Option B+ provides universal, lifelong ART for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Based on Malawi’s documented success, the World Health Organization formally adopted Option B+ as a global policy in 2013.
“We truly believe that I-TECH has significantly contributed to the prevention of thousands of infant infections and AIDS deaths among children, adolescents, and mums and dads in Malawi,” says Dr. Andreas Jahn, Senior Technical Advisor with I-TECH Malawi. “We have walked this journey with a whole generation of Malawian HIV program colleagues, and we have learned a tremendous amount from each other.”
I-TECH’s funding has grown from $500,000 for its initial award in 2002 to a cumulative total of more than $1 billion. The center currently has 26 awards, harnessing UW technical expertise in multiple technical areas from mental health to electronic health information systems to global health security and emerging health threats.
As I-TECH has adapted to changing needs, at its core remains a commitment to creating equitable partnerships and facilitating knowledge sharing throughout the I-TECH network, which includes I-TECH’s own country offices, independent partner organizations fledged from I-TECH, ministries of health, academic institutions, community groups, and others.
“When I reflect on the success of I-TECH in reaching the age of 20, two observations keep coming up for me,” says Dr. Ann Downer, co-founder and former Executive Director of I-TECH and Professor Emeritus in the Department of Global Health. “One is about the power of unity. I believe that the ability of a diverse group of individuals and teams to hold a common vision and set of values generates resilience. This unity allows I-TECH to continue operating after 20 years with integrity and grace across enormous geographic, linguistic, and cultural borders and despite regular economic and social challenges.
“The other observation is about the importance of encouraging leadership from all parts of an organization,” she continues. “This requires us to embrace the value of humility and results in our ability to listen and learn. Both are critical actions for successful work anywhere but are essential for working ethically on a global stage.”
The I-TECH story continues to unfold. From a modest grant with limited staff to a vital, resilient, and animated worldwide network of more than 1,600 dedicated personnel, I-TECH will continue to work alongside its global partners in its commitment to stronger health systems and safer, healthier communities.
“There’s so much to celebrate and a wealth of lessons to light the way forward,” says Dr. Collins. “In this era of pandemic, war, and fractured communities, our vision for health is needed now more than ever.”
Nancy Puttkammer, MPH, PhD, was recently selected to the third cohort of the Leadership Journey at WomenLift Health. The initiative, which runs from March 2022 to February 2023, is designed to support women through the challenges and opportunities of leadership positions in global health, with the ultimate goal of expanding its network of talented women leaders.
Dr. Puttkammer is Principal Investigator at the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) and Assistant Professor in the University of Washington (UW) Department of Global Health (DGH). She also serves as Program Director for the Doctor in Global Health and Leadership Practice (DrGH), and her project for the Leadership Journey will focus on augmenting the emphasis on women and leadership within the DrGH curriculum and program.
“I am thrilled to be part of the 2022 US Leadership Journey cohort—an amazing, diverse group of 30 women leaders,” says Dr. Puttkammer. “The participants come from prominent US universities, the World Bank, USAID, CDC, non-profits, and others. They each come with compelling stories, experience, and interests. Although the process has just launched, I am already grateful for the personal insights and the network I am gaining.”
As part of the Leadership Journey, each participant works on a focal project with support from senior mentors and peers. Dr. Puttkammer’s focal project will enhance the DrGH educational framework and curriculum to bring a gendered lens to leadership development, as well as develop mentorship opportunities for students to work with women leaders within and outside of UW.
“I am confident that participating in the Leadership Journey will not only enrich me,” says Dr. Puttkammer, “but will also really help me to enhance the value of the DrGH program for the next generation of global health leaders—both women and men—who join the program.”
The DrGH advances leadership development, including skills to plan evidence-based strategies and programs, catalyze resources, build partnerships across organizational boundaries, motivate teams, strengthen national policies, and manage and lead effective programs in a variety of settings. The DrGH program includes an initial year of didactic courses at UW in Seattle, followed by experiential learning rotations of 6-12 months in three different types of host organizations, such as Ministries of Health, bilateral and multilateral institutions, non-governmental organizations, and private sector companies. UW has recently extended offers of admission for the second DrGH cohort.
On World AIDS Day, December 1, staff from the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) convened with the Ministry of Health (MOH), Columbia University’s ICAP, and other national stakeholders in Malawi to present the results of the 2020-21 Malawi Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (MPHIA). The commemoration, with the theme of “End Inequalities, End AIDS, End Pandemics,” was held at Bumba Primary School grounds in Rumphi District.
Preliminary results of the assessment, led by the MOH and ICAP, show that the national HIV testing program, supported by I-TECH, has achieved a significant increase in the awareness of status among HIV-positive adults—from 77% in 2016 to 90.9% in 2020-21.
Malawi has also made great strides toward reaching the UNAIDS 95-95-95 Fast Track targets, surpassing both the second 95 (results indicate that 98% of those who know their status are initiated on treatment) and third 95 (results indicate 97% of those on treatment are virally suppressed).
The assessment will be critical to informing future programming, says Dr. Rose Nyirenda, Director of the Ministry of Health’s HIV and AIDS Department. “The 2020-21 MPHIA has produced a wealth of information that will be critical for tailoring our services and to refine strategies for closing the remaining gaps,” says Dr. Nyirenda.
The HIV and AIDS Department also exhibited commodities (antiretroviral medications, testing kits, opportunistic infection (OI) and sexually transmitted infection (STI) medicines, condoms, voluntary medical male circumcision kits) that are procured and managed through the Supply Chain and Logistics Unit.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the organization that conducted the 2020-21 Malawi Population-based HIV Impact Assessment. This assessment was led by the Malawi Ministry of Health and Columbia University’s ICAP.
In honor of Transgender Awareness Week (November 13-19), the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) pays tribute to Trinidad & Tobago transgender activist and esteemed community leader Brandy Rodriguez, who passed away in late October.
Ms. Rodriguez leaves a legacy of leadership as president of the Trinidad and Tobago Transgender Coalition and a member of the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS. She improved countless lives among those she supported in her many years as a peer navigator at the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago. Countless more lives were touched – and perspectives broadened – through her tenacity and compassion.
“A tireless champion for the trans community, Brandy held an open door and a willing ear to any lost children of our LGBTQ tribe,” says Conrad Mitchell, I-TECH’s Program Coordinator in Trinidad & Tobago. “Her fiery tongue and sharp wit kept us all in check, whilst her warm heart overflowed with a love that was unsurpassed. Her fearlessness was legendary both within the community and across local, regional, and international platforms. We are shaken to the core by this loss. The world is forever a little less ‘fierce’ with Brandy gone.”
The Key Populations Preceptorship program’s intensive trainings use targeted role-play scenarios to build clinicians’ capacity to provide nonjudgmental, high-quality comprehensive HIV care to communities most at risk: men who have sex with men, transgender people, and sex workers. Through this work with I-TECH, Ms. Rodriguez contributed to critical efforts to break down stigma and barriers to care experienced by marginalized communities. The first physician trained as part of the program in Trinidad & Tobago, Dr. Vedavid Manick, shared his experience with Ms. Rodriguez beautifully in a Trinidad and Tobago Newsday letter to the editor.
Operations management, including general operations, finance, and human resources (HR) work, are vital to any organization. They are particularly important in the complex landscape of public health programming, where they form the backbone of life-saving services. The International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) network is grateful for the expertise and leadership of finance, HR, and operations professionals across the globe who keep the organization running smoothly and responsibly. We asked several I-TECH Finance, Operations, and HR Managers to share a little bit about what drives their work, as well as their experiences as leaders within the public health field.
I have been working in the I-TECH Côte d’Ivoire Finance Department for more than 3 years. Prior to I-TECH, I worked on several development projects in Côte d’Ivoire for 14 years.
I am really dedicated to this work.
Since my childhood, I have always had compassion for people in need. I have been affected by the way refugees were struggling for life during the Liberia and Sierra Leone wars. This led me to work with a development non-governmental organization (NGO). Already working in the humanitarian field, I told myself that I could make my modest contribution in a health NGO. I got the opportunity to join I-TECH and have really enjoyed my job since.
Being a leader is not easy. In addition to having a full to-do list, I face many unforeseen circumstances every day. Being competent does not mean knowing everything, but you need to understand each topic well enough to be able to make informed decisions and ask the right questions if information is missing.
I am focusing more and more on building the right team, along with a sustainable human strategy and a culture of innovation. This will be their contribution to I-TECH.
Tannia Toivo HR Manager, I-TECH Namibia
I joined the HR field because of my love of working with and helping people. Naturally, I was drawn to the public health field and specifically to I-TECH because of its work in addressing the challenge we are facing with HIV in Namibia.
I first joined I-TECH Namibia as an HR Officer for a short period in 2012 and 2013. I was very fortunate to join the team again in May 2016 as an HR Manager. It has been so rewarding as I interact with professionals and experts from diverse backgrounds and experiences, therefore learning every day.
Generally, the HR field is woman-dominated, and it is great to see the impact that women have in the corporate world. It is a challenging field that is always growing and changing; requiring one to work very hard and to have strong job knowledge in order to succeed. My work as an HR Manager also means that I am involved in Affirmative Action activities, which place an importance in making sure that women are provided equitable employment, training, and job advancement opportunities amongst others. Through my work, I play a part in empowering other women.
Angela Amondi Operations Lead, I-TECH Kenya
My operations work was initially with general nonprofits, but as I evolved in my field, I began specializing in public health nonprofits.
I have found that being the Operations Lead for the I-TECH Kenya office has been extremely fulfilling. The organization provides professional support and development to help employees learn on the job and enhance their professional skills. A few of my I-TECH career highlights include when I supported the startup for the Kenya office and led the subsequent scale-up when we received additional funding. Within a period of two years, the office grew from having six employees to 17. While leading the operations scale-up, I set up the business operations support and created all operational policies and procedures.
I-TECH practices and emphasizes work/life balance, including having policies that support new mothers and, even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, including telecommuting as part of the organizational policies. These policies have allowed for peace of mind to focus on the work and achieve the objectives at hand.
Gerald Hiwa Finance Manager, I-TECH Malawi
The public health sector needs to be occupied by personnel who have a strong background in finance and can provide strong leadership to oversee financial and grants management. Working in the public health field allows me to answer that call of providing strong leadership so that donors and funders become more confident on how the funds are being utilized and that the intended beneficiaries are benefitting from various health programs.
Analyzing the impact of health interventions compared to the funding investment has been another factor that has enabled me to remain in the public health space for the past 9 years.
My role at I-TECH Malawi as a Finance Manager has been quite educative and impactful. Educative in the sense that I have gained additional knowledge by working with a diverse group of people with different backgrounds. I have also learned to appreciate other people’s perspective regarding work culture. The experience working with I-TECH senior management in Malawi and at headquarters has taught me to focus on the core objective of the various programs and link deliverables to budget monitoring.
My role has been impactful in the sense that I supervise two Finance Officers. Together we have managed to have clean audits with no findings for the past 5 years during annual external audits. Our Finance Department has maintained the first position for three consecutive years during the Global Finance Excellence award, a rating used to gauge policy compliance and accurate financial reporting. My role has had an impact by ensuring that all payments are in compliance with policy and reporting deadlines are met.
I was introduced to finance work within the public health field by accident, you might say. I started work as an accountant at an IT company, where I mostly did bank reconciliations and invoices and also worked with debtors. After 8 years I felt like I was stagnating and not really growing much as a professional; then the opportunity to join I-TECH Namibia presented itself. I saw the job ad in the paper, decided to go for it, applied, and the rest is history…
I have had so many wonderful experiences, including when I went to work in the South African country office’s Finance Department. I was tasked with assisting them to set up their systems and sharing my expertise and experiences. I liked working in a different set-up, learning the different South African cultures, and interacting with new people.
Another favorite experience is working with people from all over the world, networking and learning from their experiences, as well as sharing mine with them. Back home in the Namibian office, I also like that I get to interact with field staff, which is rare; finance people in general tend to be more office-based. But every now and then I go out into the field and conduct fiscal inventory verifications where I get to learn more about the operations in the field and interact with my fellow colleagues.
A highlight in my work was when I acted as Finance Director for over six months. The experience really shaped my career and confidence and challenged me in ways that made me grow as a professional.
Even though the finance field is generally male-dominated (especially here in Namibia), I’m not conscious of being a woman in my position as a Senior Finance Manager. Instead, I see my position as both an opportunity and a challenge; an opportunity to inspire more young women to join the field, and a challenge to demonstrate that women can excel in any field.
For the past 10 months, Kayla Cody-Lushozi has served as the inaugural Global Health Program Officer for I-TECH’S Global Health Leadership Development Program. The aim of this program is to support the development of skills in global health program implementation, management, and leadership for recent master’s degree graduates with diverse backgrounds who are transitioning into the public health field.
This program is structured to directly support the programmatic needs of multiple I-TECH projects while providing the Program Officer with mentorship across the I-TECH network and supporting the transition into a non-temporary global health position. In 2019, Cody-Lushozi received her Master’s in Social Work (MSW) from the University of Washington (UW) and has used this background, along with her unique experiences and expertise, to inform her work at I-TECH.
During her time as a Program Officer, Cody-Lushozi has worked with three teams across the I-TECH network, plunging into a few of the many areas of work I-TECH implements and supports. In collaboration with partners from FHI 360 and leaders from the Cambodian Ministry of Health, Cody-Lushozi supported a health informatics program, working to streamline databases and strengthen health systems in Cambodia. Additionally, she explored how to revive Community Advisory Boards for people living with HIV (PLHIV) in Jamaica in a sustainable and community-centered way with I-TECH network partner the Caribbean Training and Education Center for Health (C-TECH). She worked with community partners in Zimbabwe, as well, exploring the support systems in place for case managers supporting young PLHIV. This work was done with I-TECH partner the Zimbabwe Technical Assistance, Training and Education Center for Health (Zim-TTECH).
September marks the end of Cody-Lushozi’s time with I-TECH. Below, she shares some reflections on her time in the Leadership Development Program, as well as what might come next.
What has the experience of being a Program Officer at I-TECH meant to you?
This has been an incredible experience, and it came at a perfect time. Right before I-TECH, I was working at the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services doing direct service social work with economically marginalized clients with mental and physical health needs. While I enjoyed this role and understood its importance, this was not the type of social work practice that I wanted to pursue in the long run.
My passion and interests lie in research, especially community-centered research that allows me to work directly with Black communities in improving access to health justice. I-TECH came along at the right time and allowed me to dive deeper into the world of global health implementation.
The projects I’ve done at I-TECH have been really varied, and I’ve gotten an inside look and experience across different areas. I am constantly learning at I-TECH. I-TECH does a million things, which might have been overwhelming to a new person entering the organization, but I always felt very supported by my teams. They made it clear that I didn’t need to have all the answers.
I also appreciate that this program aims to attract a diversity of experience, background, and perspective. It encourages more than just a singular lens. I’ve been able to share my unique background and experiences as a Black woman social worker in global health. I’m excited to see where this program goes and how it continues to support I-TECH’s evolution.
This has been a beautiful experience for me. Working at I-TECH served as a great affirmation that this is the area of work that I want to continue to grow in.
How has your background in social work shaped how you’ve entered the global health field?
Before getting my MSW I already had an interest in public health, even before I was calling what I was doing public health. I wanted to use the framework and the lens that social work provides within a public health setting. I always gravitate toward work that is community-centered and centers the voices and expertise of those in the margins. These are some of the values that I bring with me into the global health space and that I hold very close to my professional and personal practice.
These values have helped me in this field because public and global health work is not always operating from the pillars of anti-oppressive practice. There’s so much historical and contemporary discourse that needs to be addressed and often isn’t in this field. You can’t be ahistorical if you’re truly trying to get to the root causes of global health inequity and injustice. Many of the issues that we see in global health are connected to issues of global white supremacy, imperialism, and resource extraction. It’s a tension that I hold in this field but something I try to do my part to shed light on.
You have done a lot of meaningful work during your time with I-TECH. What does your life look like when you’re not working?
I’ve gone through a lot of life changes these past 10 months. I’m a newlywed; I got married in June to my now husband Mawande. Being a new wife is really exciting.
A big chunk of my husband’s and my time outside of work is dedicated to our small homemade skincare business, K+M Homemade Skincare, that we officially launched during COVID. We do a lot of farmer’s markets and pop-ups on the weekends. Ask anyone and they can tell you that we love making and talking about our skincare.
In what direction do you see yourself moving after I-TECH?
After I-TECH, I see myself continuing to engage in global and public health spaces that are truly committed to community work and radical racial and social justice transformation. I am not comfortable doing this work in the absence of working directly with community members and local stakeholders. Top-down approaches have colonial and imperialist roots. I believe in doing “with” and not doing “to” and actively partnering with communities for long-term sustainability and quality health care reform.
I will be packing up and moving to South Africa in 2022 and am currently open to a position that will allow me to continue to practice in this exciting field. My interests lie in research, project management, and implementation work related to HIV care and treatment, maternal and child health, and mental health. I am also contemplating pursuing an MPH or a PhD in global health and implementation science sometime in the future. It’s been an incredible past 10 months with I-TECH and I am excited to stay in contact with this global network. I thank everyone who has been part of this journey with me!
The I-TECH network thanks Kayla Cody-Lushozi for her work and wishes her well as she continues to forge her path in global health!
If you are interested in participating in the Global Health Leadership Development Program, more information is available here.
In a time of increased barriers, disruptions, and restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) and its network partners have implemented new approaches and adapted existing programs to support continued access to antiretroviral therapy (ART).
As a result of the pandemic, many organizations and health systems have had to shift to offering virtual care, which allows ART initiation and other HIV services to persist while minimizing patients’ risk of exposure to COVID-19. However, not all patients have access to the technology that makes virtual services possible, and additional approaches are needed to support ART treatment access during this time.
“Globally, the pandemic has generated innovative responses from communities and health systems that are striving to keep people connected to care,” says Dr. Pamela Collins, I-TECH Executive Director. “One challenge is to recognize how (or when) some adaptations increase disparities in access. We’ve learned that the right combinations of technological and no-tech solutions can also be innovative if they help provide the care that’s needed.”
One way I-TECH has helped to provide innovative care during the pandemic is by centering solutions within the affected communities themselves. A few of the community-oriented approaches that the I-TECH network has implemented include decentralized ART centers, community outreach, home delivery, community adherence refill groups (CARGs), and multi-month dispensing (MMD) of antiretroviral (ARV) medication.
Decentralized ART Refill Sites and Community Outreach
Decentralized refill sites have been an essential strategy during lockdown restrictions for I-TECH’s network partners because they allow ART to be distributed at more convenient locations, minimizing travel and treatment interruptions. Some programs have also started providing mobile outreach to improve ART access during the pandemic, at times even providing doorstep delivery to those who are unable to go to a clinic or refill center.
I-TECH’s network partner in India, the UW International Training & Education Centre for Health Private Limited (I-TECH India) launched the ARTMitra helpline in Mumbai, an outreach effort designed to map the location of unreachable PLHIV and aid in planning decentralized ART refill sites. SMS messages were delivered to 13,103 PLHIV who had missed appointments during the pandemic, resulting in the identification of 42 decentralized ART refill centers in Mumbai in 2020. A similar helpline was launched in five districts of the state of Mizoram in partnership with the State AIDS Control Society. In total, I-TECH India, in close coordination with government partners in the PEPFAR states in Northeast India and in Mumbai, has ensured uninterrupted ART delivery through 145 decentralized ART refill sites.
Through outreach efforts, clients were notified about how they could access medication, and which decentralized ART refill site they should visit. Additionally, ART home delivery was provided to 255 PLHIV living in Mumbai who were unable to pick up their medication.
Thank you for calling and informing me about the availability of medicine at the nearby ART Centre, as I had no idea whom to contact and how to collect medicine.
—an ARTMitra client in Mumbai
I-TECH network partner the Zimbabwe Technical Assistance, Training and Education Center for Health (Zim-TTECH) has also utilized community outreach to support PLHIV during the pandemic. Zim-TTECH has supported the Zimbabwe Partnership to Accelerate AIDS Control (ZimPAAC) consortium—along with PEPFAR partners, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and in close collaboration with national efforts—to provide mobile HIV care, including prevention services and integrated services at ART events. In the Harare District, 8,257 clients were supplied ART during outreach events from 28 March through 17 July 2021.
Community Adherence Refill Groups and Multi-Month ART Dispensing
Through CARGs, a community of PLHIV access treatment more easily by sending a representative to receive ARVs for the entire group. The I-TECH network implements CARGs in a number of countries, using the person-centered approach to simplify HIV care and reduce the need for in-person services. This approach is often used in tandem with MMD, allowing a group to access multiple months of medication at a time.
While ARVs have traditionally been prescribed monthly, MMD allows patients to pick up medication for 2 to 6 months and reduces traditional barriers, such as access to transportation and taking time off work, as well as barriers specific to COVID-19, such as lockdown restrictions and limited capacity of health care facilities. I-TECH and its network partners have scaled up MMD in many programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, effectively minimizing the number of in-person visits and encouraging ART adherence.
In response to COVID-19 and in partnership with CDC, the Ministry of Health and Social Services (MoHSS) in Namibia introduced a new MMD policy in April 2020 for eligible ART patients, making more people eligible for this service than ever before. In addition to policy support, I-TECH Namibia is engaged in technical support to the national HIV/AIDS program through clinical mentors who work in more than half of Namibia’s health districts. This national engagement has contributed to a rapid increase in the number of eligible ART patients who now receive between 2 to 6 months’ supply of ARVs at a time.
‘’As the number of ART patients on MMD increased, waiting areas in Namibia’s health facilities have rapidly decongested, enhancing COVID-19 infection prevention and control measures,” says Dr. Norbert Forster, I-TECH Namibia’s Country Director. “At the same time, our HIV clinicians now have more time to focus their care on patient engagement and on enhancing viral load suppression and other interventions.”
I-TECH’S WORK IN INDIA IS SUPPORTED BY THE HEALTH RESOURCES AND SERVICES ADMINISTRATION (HRSA) OF THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES (HHS) UNDER U91HA06801, THE INTERNATIONAL AIDS EDUCATION AND TRAINING CENTER (IAETC). 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.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has severely hindered critical work on cervical cancer interventions, including reduced clinic flow, training opportunities, and outreach.
Due to agile programs and dedicated staff, several teams within the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) network, despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, have continued to make strides toward the WHO cervical cancer elimination goal.
Record-breaking cervical cancer screening in Namibia
The I-TECH Namibia program focuses on cervical cancer screening services for women living with HIV (WLHIV). Namibia’s national antiretroviral therapy (ART) program has rapidly adjusted to COVID-19 and the need to decongest public health facilities through multi-month dispensing (MMD) of ART. While this has helped with ART access, it has significantly reduced opportunities for performing facility-based services, since the frequency of health facility visits by women on ART has declined rapidly.
In close collaboration with the Namibia Ministry of Health and Social Services (MoHSS), I-TECH is implementing enhanced facility-based screening campaigns to increase access and rapidly reach more women. For these enhanced screenings, clients within a district are mobilized and given paced appointment times at several facilities in-line with COVID-19 restrictions. Service providers are then assigned to the specific sites where they provide screening services.
From 8-12 February, 805 women were screened through visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) or Pap smear, 95% of whom were women living with HIV (WLHIV). Of the 137 women screened VIA positive, 98% received treatment. This campaign broke national records by achieving the highest recorded number of women screened in a 5-day campaign, as well as the highest number of women screened in a single day (210).
“As the COVID 19 pandemic rages on, and preventative restrictions limit client screening, the downtime should be used in planning for catch-up screening activities,” says Dr. Laura Muzingwani, I-TECH’s Cervical Cancer Lead Physician in Namibia. “Resource and client mobilization are both key to prepare for any window of opportunity when COVID restrictions are relaxed to enable rapid mass screening.”
Mentoring and training continues in Mozambique via videoconferencing technology
In close collaboration with the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center—a Project ECHO® “superhub” for oncology—I-TECH has continued its monthly cervical cancer ECHO sessions in Mozambique, with an additional focus on COVID-19 safety and risk reduction. An average of 40 participants attend each session, and topics have included cervical changes in older women; relevance of normal and abnormal colposcopic findings; and hygiene, disinfection, and asepsis of materials.
“Although the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic was sudden, it was possible to adapt quickly using remote information and communication technologies,” says Dr. Ernestina David, Program Manager for the I-TECH Cervical Cancer Prevention Program. “The ECHO videoconference sessions made it possible to bring together providers across the country to address uterine cancer and diagnose and treat pre-cancerous lesions, using local cases and looking for ways to approach and treat them.”
In addition, the Mozambique team has continued its regional cervical cancer trainings in a blended format (both virtual and in-person components). I-TECH has implemented three trainings using a model spearheaded by MD Anderson, wherein a two-day LEEP and colposcopy training was adjusted so that trainers could join via Zoom in lieu of traveling to Mozambique.
While some participants join only the Zoom sessions, others are able to watch the sessions from a classroom setting and then work through skills-building demo stations, followed by practice on patients at a provincial hospital.
Access to services increase through health communication in Malawi
Despite the Malawi government indicating cervical cancer screening, care, and treatment as priority services, after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country, most facilities did not include cervical cancer services on their priority lists. Facilities either completely suspended or heavily reduced screening and treatment. This, coupled with fears among targeted women about contracting COVID-19, marginalized access to services.
To combat these challenges, I-TECH delivered health talks within communities on how women can protect themselves as they access services (social distancing, hand washing, use of face masks, etc.). Those reached were encouraged to pass on information to others.
I-TECH also engaged district health officers and those in charge of affected facilities on the need to continue providing cervical cancer services, in line with MOH COVID-19 prevention guidelines. Presenters emphasized the burden of cervical cancer and how it would worsen should services be interrupted for the entirety of the pandemic. Discussion also touched on including cervical cancer providers on the rotation roster and ensuring that commodities were available.
In Malawi, 391 health facilities are currently providing cervical cancer screening services, and 80% of those health facilities are also providing treatment services. More than a quarter of a million women were screened between January 2020 and June 2021, 57% of whom were WLHIV.
Zimbabwe consortium takes measures to blunt the impact of COVID-19
I-TECH and its network partner the Zimbabwe Training, Technical Assistance and Education Center for Health (Zim-TTECH) implement cervical cancer screening and treatment via the local Zimbabwean consortium ZimPAAC.
By March 2021, ZimPAAC had achieved 53% of the annual target for the number of women on ART screened for cervical cancer. ZimPAAC implemented several measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on continuity of cervical cancer screening services, including:
Training of all health care workers on COVID-19 safety and security, transmission, and prevention;
Support to ensure infection prevention and control (IPC) and triage at health facilities through training, procurement and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE), hand washing stations/commodities, face masks for both staff and clients in need; and
Procurement and distribution adequate PPE for use by health care workers at facilities.
Dr. Linda Eckert–University of Washington (UW) Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Adjunct Professor of Global Health, and technical advisor to I-TECH’s cervical cancer programs in Namibia, Malawi, and Botswana–served as one of the lead consultants coordinating the WHO guidelines.
“It has been a true privilege to join with WHO colleagues to collect and synthesize data and work with cost effectiveness modelers and our 60-member multinational Guideline Development Group, who shared their immense experience and knowledge to create these evidence-based guidelines,” said Dr. Eckert. “It is so hopeful for women around the globe, and I feel inspired thinking about how many women can be spared the suffering of cervical cancer through implementation of these guidelines.”
Dr. Laura Muzingwani, the lead physician for I-TECH’s Cervical Cancer Prevention Program in Namibia, was also an active member of the Guideline Development Group. Her experience and expertise in cervical cancer screening and treatment in Namibia enabled her to offer valuable guidance in the crafting of these recommendations.
In addition to the UW, contributing partners in the project included McMaster University, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the Clinton Health Access Initiative, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and Unitaid, among others.