Category Archives: Caribbean

I-TECH to Expand Psychosocial and Gender-based Violence Support in Trinidad and Tobago

From left to right: Conrad Mitchell, Program Coordinator, I-TECH Trinidad; Belinda White, Clinical Psychologist, I-TECH Trinidad; Heather Rodney, Chairperson, NACC Secretariat; Ian Ramdahin, Permanent Secretary, NACC Secretariat; Dr. Omoye Imoisili, Senior Public Health Analyst, HRSA; Aliyah Abdul Wakil, Strategic Information, HRSA; Alana Lum Lock Cardinez, Program Advisor, I-TECH Trinidad; Misti McDowell, Program Director, I-TECH headquarters.

Recently, representatives from the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) met with health officials in Trinidad and Tobago to discuss potential areas of support for strengthening the national response to HIV and AIDS in the country.

Several activities discussed focused on strengthening advocacy for people living with HIV (PLHIV); psychosocial support for vulnerable PLHIV; and providing services at the intersection of HIV and AIDS and gender-based violence (GBV).

With support from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), I-TECH has worked in Trinidad and Tobago since 2009, collaborating with the Ministry of Health and other partners to focus on healthcare worker training and technical assistance to improve the quality of care for PLHIV.

“I’ve always been impressed with the team and activities in Trinidad and Tobago,” says Misti McDowell, I-TECH Program Director, “especially the integration of much-needed mental health services into the HIV program.”

The assessment “Strengthening Delivery and Oversight of Mental Health and Psychosocial Services for PLHIV in Trinidad and Tobago” was completed by I-TECH and shared with the National AIDS Coordinating Committee (NACC), in an effort to identify future areas of collaboration. One of the intended outcomes is the establishment of a technical working group of national stakeholders who will collaborate with I-TECH to craft a strategy for implementing all priority interventions.

“The findings of this assessment revealed that there is a tremendous need for improved mental health support specifically in the areas of assessment and treatment throughout the national HIV treatment and care sites,” says Belinda White, Clinical Psychologist with I-TECH. “One treatment and care site reported that as much as 90% of its client population experiences symptoms of mental illnesses.”

The most common mental illnesses encountered within treatment and care sites include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia; substance use disorder is also common within the PLHIV client population. A key area of interest is the integration of the collaborative care model into the already existing treatment and care system, in a manner that incorporates the unique features of each site. Collaborative care is an evidence-based approach that integrates behavioral and physical health.

I-TECH also assisted the NACC with the establishment of the National HIV Helpline and will continue to provide support over the next six months, while working to transition the program fully to NACC. This includes support for the HIV Helpline Coordinator and Active Listeners, as well as training of new Active Listeners.

“We must continue fighting the stigma associated with living with HIV,” says Conrad Mitchell, Program Coordinator. “It’s important to continue to battle misinformation and to have that coupled with positive true-life experiences. The Helpline–manned by persons living with HIV together, with HIV NGO advocates and allies–provides a unique opportunity to combat misinformation though empathy and education in direct, one-on-one engagements with the public.”

A 2017 Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) National Women’s Health Survey for Trinidad and Tobago[1] showed that more than 30 percent of women in Trinidad and Tobago had reported having experienced at least one incidence of either physical or sexual partner violence. The NACC is seeking support related to GBV and the risks it poses to the health and well-being of PLHIV. Activities would focus on raising awareness and providing resources and psychosocial support for vulnerable groups.

“There is a lack of general knowledge about GBV and what it entails among the public as well as in some health care settings,” says Ms. White. “There is an opportunity to yield enormously positive results by increasing the knowledge and insight of health care workers, and people living with HIV, regarding GBV.

“My hope is that the information that is shared empowers people living with HIV to advocate for themselves if they come to the realization that they are experiencing,” she continues, “and to make contact with the local resources that are available to receive the necessary support.”

I-TECH will also seeks to help strengthen civil society organizations through enrollment in I-TECH-developed courses such as UW Leadership and Management in Health, Fundamentals of Implementation Science, Project Management in Global Health, Global Mental Health, and Policy Development and Advocacy for Global Health.

[1] https://publications.iadb.org/publications/english/document/National-Women-Health-Survey-for-Trinidad-and-Tobago-Final-Report.pdf

 

I-TECH Celebrates 20 Years

In 2008, I-TECH Mozambique celebrated I-TECH’s sixth birthday. “Sempre crescendo” = “always growing.”

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.

“One of the most powerful changes in the past 20 years in the Caribbean Region has been in the attitude toward key population groups,” says Natalie Irving-Mattocks, Executive Director of the Caribbean Training and Education Center for Health (C-TECH), one of I-TECH’s independent partner organizations. “Through the Key Populations Preceptorship Program, I-TECH has contributed significantly to better health in the Caribbean region by training healthcare workers to provide nonjudgmental, high-quality, comprehensive HIV care to men who have sex with men, transgender women, and sex workers.”

C-TECH is just one of the independent organizations I-TECH has helped to establish worldwide. Once operating as I-TECH Zimbabwe, the team at the Zimbabwe Technical Assistance, Training, and Education Center for Health (Zim-TTECH) has a long history of partnering with local organizations and community-based health care workers to increase access to care.

“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.”

I-TECH Remembers Transgender Activist and Leader Brandy Rodriguez

Brandy Rodriguez gives feedback to a clinician during the pilot training of I-TECH’s Key Population Preceptorship program in Trinidad & Tobago. Photo credit: Lauren Dunnington/I-TECH.

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.

Staff at I-TECH are honored to have worked with Ms. Rodriguez, who served as a patient-trainer for I-TECH Caribbean’s Key Populations Preceptorship program in Trinidad & Tobago.

“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.

To learn more about the impact Ms. Rodriguez’s work, see these tributes at Trinidad and Tobago Newsday and UNAIDS.org.

Kayla Cody-Lushozi Reflects on I-TECH’S Global Health Leadership Development Program

Kayla Cody-Lushozi

By Chelsea Elkins

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.

I-TECH Announces Launch of Independent Local Organizations B-TECH and C-TECH

The B-TECH team implements innovative, high-yield testing approaches to increase HIV case identification and yield.

On October 1, the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) celebrated the launch of the local and independent Botswana Training and Education Center for Health (B-TECH) and Caribbean Training and Education Center for Health (C-TECH).

For more than 17 years, these teams have worked within the regional Botswana and Caribbean offices of I-TECH to respond to the health needs of individuals and communities infected and affected by HIV. B-TECH and C-TECH, as locally registered non-governmental organizations, will continue to build on those years of experience implementing innovative, locally driven HIV prevention, care, and treatment programs, as well as expand their work to tackle other pressing health issues within the Batswana and Caribbean communities.

As part of the I-TECH network, B-TECH and C-TECH are able to access the academic depth and regulatory structures of UW and, together with local and regional clinical and programmatic expertise, scale up best practices and strengthen health systems. As local entities, B-TECH and C-TECH will also be able to take advantage of expanded partnership opportunities.

The C-TECH team also has broad experience with clinical mentoring at HIV treatment sites.

Both teams have supported pioneering work in their regions to provide comprehensive, patient-centered care for the most vulnerable populations. The C-TECH team has implemented a groundbreaking preceptorship program to improve provider communication with key populations affected by HIV in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. It has also implemented a successful telementoring program through a Project ECHO®-based platform and model, reaching 465 providers. The program connects groups of providers to form communities of practice throughout the region to facilitate clinical updates, case consultations, and strengthened practice in HIV treatment and care and, recently, COVID-19.

“We look forward to remaining within the I-TECH family,” said Natalie Irving-Mattocks, Executive Director of C-TECH. “But our team is equipped and ready to move into this next chapter, deepening our local relationships, expanding our reach throughout the Caribbean, and building on our commitment to support access to high quality health care for the region’s most vulnerable.”

For its part, the B-TECH team has made an enormous impact on the health systems of Botswana, enabling the policy environment for HIV clinical case management; developing and implementing an interoperable, standards-based health information system; and enhancing the capacity of the health workforce at all levels. The team has also implemented innovative, high-yield testing approaches to increase HIV case identification. Targeted HIV testing strategies include partner testing services; HIV self-testing; testing among presumptive tuberculosis cases; and the expansion of afterhours and weekend testing to target men.

“We are excited to begin this new endeavor to promote innovative, locally driven, and effective programs to respond to the HIV epidemic in Botswana,” said Dr. Odirile Bakae, Executive Director of B-TECH. “With a high level of technical assistance from I-TECH, combined with B-TECH’s boots-on-the-ground approach, we are a winning team. We look forward to a fruitful partnership with both I-TECH/UW and the Government of Botswana.”

I-TECH has worked closely with UW Global Operations Support over the past decade to inform the internal procedures and structures necessary for international office registrations. This work has promoted operational effectiveness by enabling a safe, compliant, and legal environment for conducting international work. I-TECH’s close work with Global Operations Support has also helped to create the administrative and policy structures necessary to enable the successful launch of B-TECH and C-TECH.

Over the past two years, three other I-TECH offices – in Haiti, India, and Zimbabwe – have launched local organizations, signaling I-TECH’s bedrock commitment to transition, sustainability, and country ownership.

“These new organizations reflect our shared goals of serving communities, building capacity, and supporting expert leadership across the I-TECH network,” said Dr. Pamela Collins, I-TECH Executive Director. “We look forward to continued strong collaboration that saves lives.”

Read more about the B-TECH and C-TECH leadership teams below.

Dr. Odirile Bakae, Executive Director, B-TECH

Dr. Bakae is a physician with over 15 years of clinical experience in providing services to people living with HIV, as well as a deep understanding of structuring health programs to optimize client outcomes. He has several years of experience practicing medicine in public health settings in Botswana, including the management of the Infectious Disease Control Centers (IDCC), specializing in ART failure clients, complicated TB and HIV cases, and cervical cancer patients.

In addition to his role as B-TECH Executive Director, Dr. Bakae is the Principal Investigator for the CDC funded Cervical Cancer (GH20-2009) and Strategic Information Services (GH20-2007) awards.

He joined I-TECH Botswana in 2015 and led one of the most successful HIV testing programs in the country, focusing on a client-centered approach. Under his leadership, the country program performed exceptionally well, in terms of quality of service delivery and in meeting donor targets and expectations.

Thulaganyo Kauta, Deputy Executive Director, B-TECH

Ms. Kauta is a seasoned operations management professional with over 20 years of experience across a wide range of industries. She joined I-TECH Botswana in April 2009 and, as the Deputy Executive Director for B-TECH, she oversees operations, finance, and human resources, and is responsible for design and implementation of internal controls and compliance oversight at all levels of the organization.

In her management role, Ms. Kauta provides planning and coordination of efficient and effective support services to enable delivery of quality work to B-TECH clients and stakeholders. A key function of her role is to identify solutions to address operational challenges within B-TECH as well as ensure the implementation and adherence to the organization’s operational systems, policies and procedures.

Natalie Irving-Mattocks, Executive Director, C-TECH

Ms. Irving-Mattocks is a public health program director with extensive experience in managing projects focusing on health systems strengthening. She is also a business development practitioner with 13 years of experience in the field of social development. Her expertise includes financial management, budget management, project proposal writing, program design/development, planning, implementation and monitoring, strategic planning, and institutional development.

To her role as C-TECH Executive Director, Ms. Irving-Mattocks also brings deep experience and a proven track record in mobilizing and managing grants from international funding agencies such as United States Department of Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), PANCAP Global Fund, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Clinton Foundation and National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Dr. Clive Anderson, Board Chair and Technical Advisor, C-TECH

Dr. Anderson has 30 years of experience as a primary care physician, specializing in HIV and STI care and prevention, as well as dermatology. He comes to his role as Board Chair and Technical Advisor after serving as Country Director of I-TECH Jamaica for the past three years.

He remains Technical Advisor to I-TECH Jamaica, where his experience also includes extensive experience as Technical Lead of the Caribbean Quality Improvement Collaborative (CareQIC), Lead HIV Project ECHO® Facilitator and Mentor, and clinical mentor at HIV treatment sites throughout Jamaica.

Dr. Anderson is currently a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Global Health, University of Washington.

HIV ECHO Tele-Mentoring in the Caribbean

I-TECH facilitates an HIV ECHO® program, a distance-based tele-mentoring program for providers and clinics across the region. Weekly sessions provide access to brief HIV clinical updates along with an opportunity to present and receive consultation on challenging or unusual clinical care issues from a team of multi-cadre HIV experts as well as from other members of the community of practice. In response to an identified need, the program added a monthly mental health and HIV session.

In 2019, I-TECH began supporting the Medical Research Foundation to initiate a similar HIV/STI ECHO® program that will target HIV and STI care and treatment sites in Trinidad and Tobago as well as with in other countries in the region.

MetaECHO Conference Examines New Frontiers in TeleHealth

Liz Blanton, M&E advisor at I-TECH, presents her poster at MetaECHO.

On March 13-16, Liz Blanton, Monitoring and Evaluation Advisor at the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH), joined more than a thousand clinicians, funders, academic leaders, government officials, and public health experts for the MetaECHO™ conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The University of New Mexico’s Project ECHO® model aims to bring specialized health care and expertise to rural and underserved communities in the U.S. and worldwide.

Blanton presented a poster titled “An Evaluation of Pilot Project ECHO in the Republic of South Sudan and Implications for Implementation in Fragile States.” The evaluation, still in its early stages, will assess the feasibility and acceptability of the model, which is implemented by Columbia University’s ICAP and is the first of its kind in a fragile state.

It will also gauge the impact of the ECHO model – based on telementoring and case presentation from a panel of experts – on providers’ sense of self-efficacy and professional satisfaction, as well as assess outcomes at the facility and systems levels.

“It’s the outcomes piece that really interested people,” said Blanton, pointing out that most of the outcomes studies to date have been fairly small. “It’s something a lot of people at the conference were talking about: how effective is Project ECHO at improving health outcomes?”

In light of this year’s theme of “Infinite Possibilities,” there were also deep discussions about the evolution of the model and how it might be adapted to improve communication between providers and patients, not just among providers. “There were several ‘ECHO Talks’ – TED-style talks – that were really moving,” said Blanton. “Some of the best were by patient advocates,” who highlighted the need for patient-centered care.

A fireside chat with keynote speaker Dr. Don Berwick, President Emeritus and Senior Fellow at the Institute of Healthcare Improvement, underscored the question: how can ECHO teams best deliver what patients need?

Today, Project ECHO operates more than 220 hubs for more than 100 diseases and conditions in 31 countries. The MetaECHO community encompasses all those dedicated to reaching the collective goal of touching 1 billion lives by 2025.

Project ECHO at I-TECH

Several programs at I-TECH utilize the Project ECHO model as a mentoring tool and force multiplier:

  • The first I-TECH-supported ECHO program in the Caribbean was established in January 2018, with the hub site in Jamaica. In that initial year, 41 ECHO sessions were provided, with participation by nearly 300 health care workers. Topics centered on viral load suppression and also included a series on TB prevention, diagnosis, and treatment in people with HIV; tenofovir toxicity; and HIV and lymphoma. During an I-TECH assessment, it was found that the majority of complicated cases presented during ECHO sessions in the Caribbean involved patients with mental health and substance use disorders that negatively impact their ability to adhere to medication and care. Plans are under way to include a psychiatrist/mental health specialist on the ECHO expert panel, and one Wednesday per month will be focused on HIV/mental health co-morbidities. The Jamaica Ministry of Health has also requested that I-TECH include an additional 20 HIV care and treatment sites, as well as a small group of private practitioners, in the current HIV ECHO program community of practice. In service of this request, I-TECH will support the development of a second ECHO program based in Trinidad, which will be launched this month.
  • I-TECH is implementing ECHO to build the capacity of laboratory staff and improve the quality of lab services in Côte d’Ivoire. Sessions include up to 17 laboratories and nearly 30 participants apiece; topics have included management of non-conformities in laboratories. laboratory equipment preventive maintenance, best practices in HIV serology, and external quality assurance.
  • In Malawi, I-TECH supports Project ECHO in partnership with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF), and Lighthouse Trust. The program has more than 40 participants from five different sites, and case presentation topics have ranged from tuberculosis to HIV encephalitis to Kaposi’s sarcoma. Benefits of the program include not only increased engagement of providers to discuss difficult cases, but also an improved referral system between clinics.
  • ECHO is installed and supported by I-TECH at 41 sites in Namibia, and monthly participation reaches up to 400 subject matter experts and staff. Dozens of topics were discussed during the pilot period (November 2015 to September 2016) alone – the most widely attended were on HIV disclosure to children, PMTCT Option B+, and presentation of tuberculosis. In an evaluation of the Namibia pilot, nearly 80% of participants cited that access to the expertise of HIV specialists and inter-disciplinary consultation was a major area of need for them and their clinics. Ninety-three percent of the participants reported that the presentations during the pilot ECHO sessions provided them with useful, up-to-date knowledge.

 

Caribbean Partnerships

I-TECH works with a wide variety of partners in the Caribbean and the United States. Partners include:

Regional Organizations partnering with I-TECH include:

Improving HIV Care and Treatment across the Caribbean

I-TECH supports a variety of activities aimed at improving HIV care and treatment in the Caribbean region, such as on-site clinical mentoring, development of training curricula, and providing clinical support materials to improve care and treatment for HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean region.
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eLearning Programs in the Caribbean

I-TECH has partnered with universities and ministries of health (MoH) in the region to develop accessible in-service training opportunities for HIV providers using distance and blended learning.

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