Category Archives: Malawi

HIV Impact Assessment Shows Significant Progress in Malawi

Tiwonge Chimpandule, I-TECH Malawi’s Strategic Information Officer, presents the results of the 2020/21 Malawi Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (MPHIA) to guest of honor Chrissy Kalamula Kantaso, Deputy Minister of Health (right). Looking on are Jeremy Neitzke, Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy (center) and Dr. Rose Nyirenda, Director, HIV and AIDS Department in the Ministry of Health (left). Photo credit: I-TECH Malawi

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.

The assessment, led by the MOH and ICAP, shows 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 88% 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.

Finance, Operations, and HR Leaders Across the I-TECH Network Share Experiences

By Chelsea Elkins

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.

Yves-Alain Tanoh

Yves-Alain Tanoh
Finance Manager, I-TECH Côte d’Ivoire

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

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

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

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.

Candida Angula

Candida Angula
Senior Finance Manager, I-TECH Namibia

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.

 

Despite COVID-19 Challenges, I-TECH Supports Progress Toward Cervical Cancer Elimination

The World Health Organization (WHO) Global Strategy to Accelerate the Elimination of Cervical Cancer, launched in November 2020, calls for a world where cervical cancer—which kills more than 300,000 women per year—is eliminated. To achieve this, the strategy proposes ambitious 90-70-90 targets over the next decade.

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.

National COVID-19 Emergency Response in Malawi

In collaboration with the Malawi Ministry of Health (MOH) and Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), I-TECH has supported the national COVID-19 response in Malawi since March 2020. Technical assistance has focused on laboratory capacity, supporting quality COVID-19 surveillance and data management, and implementing a COVID-19 population-based survey with oversight from the Public Health Institute of Malawi (PHIM), under MOH.

In June 2020, I-TECH seconded a Technical Advisor (TA) to PHIM to support COVID-19 activities. The I-TECH TA acts as secretariat for the national Public Health Emergency Operations Center (PHEOC), supporting the coordination of the multi-sectoral COVID-19 response, developing and revising strategies and procedures, facilitating communication, and ensuring access to and sharing of COVID-19 data and information between partners.

I-TECH has also assisted with data management and reporting at the district level, as well as with contact tracing and adherence to infection prevention and control measures.

I-TECH has been able to leverage use of its platform for HIV laboratory activities to provide critical lab support for COVID-19 activities and provide key support to the National Health Reference Laboratory, focusing on building or increasing laboratory capacity including with genomic sequencing, maintaining quality assurance, and improving communication and coordination among laboratory stakeholders.

The I-TECH Team also coordinated a population-based survey to evaluate the extent of spread of COVID-19 in five high-burden districts in Malawi.

I-TECH Presents Posters at IAS 2021 Conference on HIV Science

The International AIDS Society (IAS) virtually hosted the 11th Conference on HIV Science on 18-21 July 2021. The conference also included a “local partner hub” in Berlin, the original host city, for local experts to gather in person. This biennial conference brings together top HIV researchers, experts, and scientists for presentations and discussions on the latest advances in HIV research and practice.

Representatives from the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) virtually presented the following posters:

Representatives from I-TECH’s partner network organizations and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also presented data from I-TECH-supported programs in Malawi, India, and Zimbabwe.

I-TECH Team Contributes to New WHO Recommendations for Cervical Cancer Screening and Treatment

After two years of collaborative work, the World Health Organization (WHO) today launched a critical publication to aid health care workers in the march toward cervical cancer elimination: The WHO Guidelines for Screening and Treatment of Cervical Pre-Cancer Lesions for Cervical Cancer Prevention.

The guidelines contain evidence-based recommendations for cervical cancer screening and were created in the context of the WHO global strategy to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer, as well as the need to provide screening and prevention services to all women around the globe.

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.

HIV Recency Surveillance in Malawi

The International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH), in collaboration with the Malawian Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, began implementing recent HIV infection surveillance in April 2019. The project aims to establish a surveillance system among persons newly diagnosed with HIV infection by integrating point-of-care testing for recent infection into routine HIV testing services (HTS). A rapid test for recent infection is given to consenting clients 13-years-and-older who screen HIV positive within routine HTS across participating health facilities. Between April 2019-2020, I-TECH and MOH activated 485 testing points at 155 facilities in Malawi. All 155 facilities implemented recent HIV infection surveillance and reported data. The project has reached 11 of 28 districts to date.

These data allow the detection and characterization of recent HIV infection among newly diagnosed individuals and identify geographic areas associated with recent HIV-1 infection to inform geographic prioritization of HIV prevention and treatment strategies. The project has demonstrated high uptake and allowed characterization of recent infections according to socio-demographic and geographic factors. PEPFAR implementers in Malawi will collaborate with MOH to further investigate the reasons for high recent infection prevalence in identified clusters. Based on the findings of these responses, Malawi may focus on interventions such as youth-focused programs that aim to limit HIV acquisition and transmission among young people.

I-TECH Supports Critical TB Prevention, Screening, and Treatment for PLHIV

The global health community recognizes March 24 as World Tuberculosis (TB) Day to raise awareness of this deadly, yet preventable and curable, disease. The 2021 theme, “The Clock Is Ticking,” underlines the importance of acting now to end the global TB epidemic. According to World Health Organization, the probability of developing active TB disease is 18 times higher in people living with HIV (PLHIV), and in 2019 TB killed 1.4 million people worldwide, which includes 208,000 people who were HIV-positive.

Photo Credit: I-TECH

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, TB is one of the leading causes of death worldwide for PLHIV. To help treat and combat the spread of TB, particularly among PLHIV, the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) supports TB prevention, care, treatment, monitoring, and policy activities across the I-TECH global network. Current I-TECH work includes TB interventions in Mozambique, Namibia, and Malawi.

I-TECH supports the National TB Program in Mozambique by using the Warm Line—a telephone consultation line that supports clinicians—to deliver results for suspected drug-resistant TB cases to clinicians located at health facilities throughout the country. This collaboration with the Ministry of Health’s National TB Reference Lab allows for more timely identification and better management of drug-resistant TB cases. During 2019, 9,103 (83%) of results were delivered via the Warm Line. I-TECH’s team also engaged providers and clinicians in 383 interactions via the Warm Line to support mentoring and to monitoring complicated TB cases.

In addition to supporting clinicians with TB care and diagnosis, I-TECH supports TB prevention, diagnosis, and care among clients attending HIV clinics throughout seven regions and across 150 public health facilities in Namibia. The I-TECH team screens for active TB; monitors drug interactions for TB/HIV co-infection; provides TB screening, prevention, and management of TB/HIV co-infection for HIV-positive clients; tests for HIV at TB clinics for clients with unknown HIV status; and assesses eligibility, previous initiation, and completion of TB Preventive Therapy (TPT) to ensure no clients are missed. As of January 2021, approximately 90% of HIV-positive patients on antiretroviral therapy at supported facilities initiated their TPT course and 80% have completed their TPT course. I-TECH also works closely with healthcare workers and facilities to improve recording keeping of TPT course initiation and completion as well as the use of this data to focus day-to-day clinical efforts.

Since 2015, I-TECH has been providing technical assistance support to the Malawi National TB Program to improve the quality of TB services at all health facilities throughout Malawi. I-TECH continues to train program monitors to interpret and act on data collected using the TB Standard of Care Monitoring Tool. The tool, designed by I-TECH, collects data for case detection, treatment outcome monitoring, TB/HIV status ascertainment, and TB infection control and contact investigation. Using the collected data, I-TECH identifies performance gaps and create action plans for health facilities to improve the quality of TB services. Even with a loss of momentum due to the impact of COVID-19 pandemic, by September 2020, 85% of presumptive TB cases—those who were suspected of TB and referred for testing—knew their HIV status.

 

I-TECH’S WORK IN MOZAMBIQUE 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.

I-TECH Presents Posters at AIDS 2020: Virtual

The International AIDS Society (IAS) virtually hosted their 23rd International AIDS conference (AIDS 2020: Virtual) on 6-10 July 2020. The AIDS 2020: Virtual theme was resilience, to celebrate and acknowledge the strength of the HIV community and the significant advances in treatment, while also addressing gaps in treatment, prevention, and care.

Representatives from the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) virtually presented the following posters with accompanying audio recordings:

In addition to the I-TECH representatives presenting their posters, representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Health Alliance International (HAI) also presented data from I-TECH programs in Malawi and Mozambique.