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IDASH Fellowship Meets in Kazakhstan for In-Person, and Virtual, Workshop

IDASH fellows engage in group work during an October workshop in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Photo credit: Jamey Gentry/CDC.

Last month, the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH), in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and with support from the World Health Organization (WHO), facilitated the second of three in-person workshops for the Informatics and Data Science for Health (IDASH) fellowship.

Held in Almaty, Kazakhstan, the workshop marked the mid-point of the 12-month fellowship—and a chance for participants to come together to advance their ability to apply public health informatics and data science concepts and approaches.

“This workshop included a lot of hands-on practical exercises, and it was fun to observe how engaged the participants were with these activities and with the learning in general,” said Stacey Lissit, MPH, MS, Senior Technical Advisor for the IDASH program.

Content included all things data (quality, cleaning, analysis, visualization, governance, security, privacy, and confidentiality); interoperability; project management; business process analysis; and systems architecture. Sessions were a mix of didactic lecture, small group activities to practice application of skills and concepts, peer feedback, and guided hands-on learning in R and PowerBI. Over the course of the two weeks, participants collaborated  to develop a data dashboard, a database schema, and a data quality workplan.

The first cohort of the IDASH fellowship, with I-TECH instructors. Photo credit: Jamey Gentry/CDC.

The current fellowship, launched in April 2023, comprises a cohort of four participants each from Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan—a total of 20 fellows. Each four-person team includes a mix of mid-senior level epidemiologists, informaticians, data scientists, IT, and public health policy personnel.

Fellow Zhanibek Yerubayev, Director of Public Health Emergency Operations at the Kazakhstan Ministry of Health’s National Center of Public Health, says the team mix is an integral part of IDASH’s impact. “[IDASH] connects people from the public health side with people from the IT side,” he says. “These people have a lot of projects to do [together], but they are not always well connected, and they do not always understand each other well.”

“It was exciting to see the relationships and community that are being built through the IDASH Fellowship – both within the country teams where fellows can collaborate closely with colleagues outside of their typical ‘work silos,’ and across countries within the region,” said Lissit. “That peer learning element is such an important part of the fellowship.”

And all efforts were made to ensure multi-directional collaboration. The Ukrainian team did not receive permission to travel to the workshop, so I-TECH made arrangements for them to participate via Zoom. A location was identified in southwest Ukraine where the team could  attend the workshop together remotely, experience fewer daily safety issues related to the war, and avoid the distractions of being in their own workplace. A simultaneous translator for the Ukrainian language was provided on the Zoom call.

While remote participation is not ideal, the Ukraine team was able to attend and hear most of the workshop sessions and engage in the group work in meaningful ways. “A lot of effort went into setting up the technology that enabled this participation,” said Lissit. “At one point the Ukraine team was participating in a peer feedback activity with two country teams in Almaty—there were live cameramen, screen sharing, Zoom translators…and it worked mostly seamlessly!”

Fellow Durbek Aliyev, Deputy CEO at IT-Med LLC, which works under the Uzbekistan Ministry of Health, was especially appreciative of the chance to learn from a wide range experts across the region. “The digitalization of health care cannot be done by only one country itself,” said Aliyev. “The advantage of IDASH over other programs is that it brings [together] specialists from neighbor countries. We are talking to each other….We are learning from each other directly.”

And these relationships will be a lasting benefit of the program, he continued. “IDASH is a place where we can establish very good networking with other countries,” said Aliyev. “Any time I can contact them and learn from their expertise.”

IDASH is a project within the Integrated Next-Generation Surveillance in Global Health: Translation to Action (INSIGHT) program. In addition to acquiring new skills and knowledge in public health informatics and data science, IDASH country teams are developing and will implement a collaborative team project that demonstrates key competencies and is aligned with their country’s needs and priorities.

 

 

 

New I-TECH Publication Shows Effectiveness of Index Testing Program in Ukraine

Index testing is a is a key strategy to identify and support those most at risk of acquiring HIV.1 Within the index testing framework, exposed contacts (i.e., sexual partners, biological children and anyone with whom a needle was shared) of an HIV-positive person (i.e., index client), are elicited and offered HIV testing services.

From 2019 to 2021, the I-TECH team in Ukraine provided increased technical assistance for 39 state healthcare facilities in 11 high HIV-burden regions to advance assisted partner notification/services and index testing.

In a recently published study in BMJ Open, the I-TECH team—along with representatives from the Public Health Center at the Ukrainian Ministry of Health—describe the success of this scaled program in index testing.

“Index case testing is crucial in reaching out to exposed contacts of individuals living with HIV, notifying them, and offering HIV testing,” said Anna Shapoval, I-TECH Ukraine Country Representative. “This approach is particularly important and effective in the context of Ukrainian national HIV response where, despite numerous successes, we still struggle to close HIV testing gap and reach out to people living with HIV earlier rather than later with proper treatment and support.”

I-TECH developed exhaustive standard operating procedures for index testing; thoroughly trained healthcare teams on the index testing algorithm; as well as provided consistent and regular methodological support as part of its index testing program.

The study includes clients enrolled in index testing services in 2020, who had with both recent (<6 months) and previously established (≥6 months) HIV diagnoses. Ukraine’s physician-led model involves a cascade of steps including voluntary informed consent, partner elicitation, selection of partner notification method and follow-up with clients to ensure partners are notified, tested for HIV, and linked to HIV prevention and treatment services, as needed.

“Ukraine’s index testing services were rolled out as a standard part of Ukraine’s HIV service package at the targeted governmental health facilities, and carried out by existing physicians,” said Alyona Ihnatiuk, Strategic Information Lead for I-TECH Ukraine and lead author of the study. “At each supported facility, one or two staff members were designated as focal persons for case management and follow-up. This integrated, physician-led model was streamlined to target index cases with both recent and established HIV diagnosis, to arrive at a high number of new cases of HIV identified.”

There were 976 new cases of HIV identified through the study period, representing a yield of 19.3%, and 1,408 people living with HIV (PLHIV) have been identified throughout the two-year index testing program.

Of 14,525 index clients offered index testing, 51.9% accepted, of whom 98.3% named at least one sexual partner, injection partner, or biological child. Clients named 8,448 unique partners; HIV case finding was highest among clients with recent HIV diagnosis and among people who inject drugs (PWID), and lower among clients with established HIV diagnosis. More than 90% of all partners with new HIV diagnoses were linked to care.

“The BMJ Open study confirms that comprehensive assisted partner notification services and index testing are highly effective in identifying people living with HIV,” says Ms. Shapoval, “as well as tracing previously diagnosed partners and supporting their linkage to care. I-TECH was honored to contribute to the design and implementation of this vital intervention in Ukraine early on and see it gradually rolled out across the country with multiple partners successfully implementing it now.”

  1. Golden M, et al. Partner notification for sexually transmitted infections including HIV infection: an evidence-based assessment. Sexually transmitted diseases. 4th edn. McGraw-Hill; New York, NY: 2007.

THIS PROJECT 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.

Strengthening Public Health Disease Surveillance

The Integrated Next-generation Surveillance in Global Health: Translation to Action (INSIGHT to Action) project is a five-year cooperative agreement with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to assess and strengthen global public health surveillance systems using a One Health approach. The INSIGHT project leverages the capacity building strengths of I-TECH and the One Health disease surveillance expertise of the Center for One Health Research, with a model of engaging local institutions and experts in countries where it will be working in a shared partnership model.

In its first year, the INSIGHT project focused on an in depth assessment of the public health surveillance systems in Peru, in partnership with experts from University of Peru Cayetano Heredia. The completed assessment has now catalyzed the formation of a technical working group with representation across multiple government agencies that will work with other stakeholders including the World Bank at implementing measures to strengthen regional and country capacity to detect, respond to, control, and prevent emerging disease threats to health security.

The INSIGHT surveillance work in Latin America is also now expanding to involve Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia.

IDASH TRAINING PROGRAM

In 2023, the INSIGHT program launched the Informatics and Data Science for Health (IDASH) training program in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The goals of IDASH are to enhance capacity to create and use public health information systems that enable the capture, management, analysis, dissemination, and use of reliable, timely information to improve population-level health outcomes, as well as strengthen regional capacity to effectively respond to future global health challenges.

UKRAINE RECOVERY

Building on lessons learned from the Peru assessment work, the INSIGHT team is now working with the Ukraine Public Health Center on expanding sentinel and event based surveillance systems in Ukraine and strengthening the capacity of the public health system for emergency management of chemical biological, radiological, and nuclear threats. The INSIGHT team has organized a workshop in Poland bringing together key principals from the Ukraine ministry of health and local health departments to accelerate the pace of activities in support of public health in the country. INSIGHT is coordinating technical working groups on Early Warning and Response, Public Health Emergency Management, and Surveillance strengthening.

I-TECH Ukraine Team Partners with Shelter for Women and Girls

Thanks to new generators, the Rehabilitation Shelter had electricity, heat, and Internet connection during massive shelling in Ukraine in fall and winter 2022-2023.

In February 2022, at the advent of the war in Ukraine, the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) launched the I-TECH Humanitarian Fund to support the work of our team in Ukraine. Many team members remain displaced, away from their homes, and isolated from their families and friends. However, their tireless work continues provide uninterrupted access and services to Ukrainians living with HIV, who are more in need of care and refuge than ever.

Supported by generous donations to the I-TECH Humanitarian Fund, I-TECH Ukraine has been able to advance the work of Eleos-Ukraine, a network of like-minded people and organizations that develop social services through 13 regional offices throughout Ukraine. The common goal of Eleos-Ukraine partners is to feed, clothe, and protect 1 million people in need.

“The compassion and solidarity of our American colleagues and friends with Ukraine and Ukrainians, including those expressed through generous donations to the I-TECH’s Humanitarian Fund just in the first few weeks of the full-scale war, are overwhelmingly moving,” said Anna Shapoval, I-TECH’s Country Representative in Ukraine. “We are eternally grateful.”

To date, the I-TECH Humanitarian Fund has been directed to Eleos’ critical work on behalf of Ukrainian women and girls subjected to sexual violence and other trauma (e.g., incarceration and torture) by the Russian army, notably the development and establishment of the Rehabilitation Shelter in August 2022.

Money from the fund has gone directly to outfitting the shelter with video surveillance, fire alarms, and powerful generators. Thanks to the generators, the shelter had electricity, heat, and internet connection during massive shelling by the Russian Federation in fall and winter 2022-2023.

“We appreciate your cooperation and thank you for helping the citizens of Ukraine during the war,” wrote Eleos-Ukraine Board Chair Serhii Dmytriyev, in a thank you letter to I-TECH Humanitarian Fund donors. “Our joint humanitarian project will help women not just today, at this time of crisis; it will also be important in reducing the consequences of war – which makes it an important contribution to the future of Ukraine!”

Since the shelter opened, more than 150 women from Kyiv, Donetsk, Kherson, Mykolaiv, and Luhansk Oblasts have received help remotely and within the shelter. The duration of a stay in the shelter for one client varies from one to six months and can be extended. The shelter houses 15-20 women and girls as well as their families, with accommodation for up to 30 people.

“Eleos-Ukraine is a truly passionate and efficient organization. They have been at the forefront of response to this war since 2014, the actual start of the Russian invasion,” said Ms. Shapoval. “Eleos put their minds and souls into supporting Ukrainian women and girls, and other civilians, who have suffered from horrifying violence and deprivation daily. They will continue helping people of Ukraine, no matter what – and so, I hope, we as I-TECH will continue supporting groups like Eleos on the ground.”

I-TECH Executive Director Pamela Collins lauded both the Ukraine team’s work with Eleos and those who have contributed generously to the I-TECH Humanitarian Fund. “I am very proud of I-TECH Ukraine’s activities with Eleos to respond to the humanitarian emergency in Ukraine,” said Dr. Collins. “Thanks to our donors, we had the resources to do what I-TECH does well: identify and collaborate with strong partners in the countries where we work to meet urgent needs in a times of crisis.”

 

IDASH Program Launches for Eastern Europe and Central Asia Region

Participants gather for group discussion during the first IDASH in-person workshop in Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo credit: CDC/EECA

On April 3, the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) launched the Informatics and Data Science for Health (IDASH) fellowship training program with an in-person workshop in Tbilisi, Georgia. The program launched in partnership with the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia (CDC/EECA) Regional Office, the World Health Organization (WHO) Europe, and country governments.

The first IDASH cohort includes 20 fellows from Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. Participants include mid- to senior-level technical, analytical, and public health staff working at the national level in public health informatics or data science.

“After several whirlwind months of collaboration and engagement with stakeholders from the five countries, it’s amazing to welcome the first cohort of IDASH to Tbilisi for the first of three in-person workshops,” said Stacey Lissit, MPH, MS, Senior Technical Advisor for the IDASH program.

Fellows will participate in a 12-month in-service training program, in which each country team of four fellows will identify and develop a collaborative project. Fellows will receive sustained mentorship, and regional communities of practice will be established to ensure regional collaboration, share lessons learned and best practices, and establish linkages for future programming needs that span multiple countries.

“IDASH provides the opportunity to link learning to experience, and enables the application of new public health skills, knowledge, and techniques acquired from the training in a real-life context,” said Peter Rabinowitz, MD, MPH, Principal Investigator for the IDASH project. “It also extends benefits beyond the trainees to partner agencies and organizations, helping strengthen public health capacity in the region.”

Proposed fellowship projects include automating data analysis and visualization for diseases, expanding digital immunization registries beyond COVID-19, and developing spatial analysis modules for multi-disease surveillance and response.

“Today, the afternoon of the 4th day, the room is buzzing as the five country teams are hard at work: two engrossed in consultation with our facilitation team of public health informatics and data science experts about their country team projects; the others working on a data science methods exercise, practicing interpretation of descriptive and inferential statistics plots to assess trends in Hepatitis C,” said Ms. Lissit. “The energy and engagement have been high, and we’re looking forward to the next six days and the rest of the year-long fellowship.”

IDASH goals are to enhance capacity to create and use public health information systems that enable the capture, management, analysis, dissemination, and use of reliable, timely information to improve population-level health outcomes, as well as strengthen regional capacity to effectively respond to future global health challenges and pandemics.

“The COVID-19 pandemic made clear the importance of public health data systems that provide real time, accurate data on disease threats to allow for timely intervention and combatting of mis- and disinformation,” said Dr. Rabinowitz. “Programs like IDASH will help ensure there is a workforce prepared to detect, prevent, and respond to future global health threats.”

Story updated: April 11, 2023

I-TECH Attends IAS 24th International AIDS Conference

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

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

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

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

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

Assisted HIV Partner Notification/Index Testing in Ukraine

Since 2019, I-TECH has provided increased technical assistance for 39 state healthcare facilities in eleven high HIV burden regions of Ukraine to advance assisted partner notification/services and index testing as a sustainable strategy for HIV case finding.

Continue reading “Assisted HIV Partner Notification/Index Testing in Ukraine”

HIV Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) in Ukraine

The Government of Ukraine prioritized pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as part of combination prevention for HIV in 2019.1 Since 2020, I-TECH has focused its programmatic efforts in Ukraine on improving PrEP services uptake and strengthening PrEP delivery at selected stat healthcare facilities.

Continue reading “HIV Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) in Ukraine”

I-TECH Ukraine Hosts First Index Testing Forum Following Launch of National Index Testing Program

Attendees brainstorm at the Index Testing Forum in Ukraine.
A group of forum attendees meet to brainstorm and discuss the index testing program. Photo credit: I-TECH Ukraine.

On December 18, 2019, I-TECH Ukraine facilitated its first forum on index testing, a key strategy used to identify and support HIV-positive individuals. Service providers, as well as representatives from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Public Health Center (PHC) of the Ministry of Health (MOH) of Ukraine, attended the forum and participated in discussions detailing the best ways to implement and adapt proven index testing methodologies in Ukraine.

I-TECH Ukraine rolled out its national program in October 2019, after shifting its programmatic focus to provide index testing development and quality assurance. The program was launched at 39 antiretroviral therapy (ART) clinics in 11 PEPFAR priority regions across the country.

The recent forum included a review of early program performance; identification of best practices that can be scaled up to improve index testing and partner notification performance; and solutions to key challenges that index testing providers are currently facing in Ukraine.

“The index testing strategy gives us all high hopes that we can reach out to the most affected groups of people living with HIV and identify many individuals in need of care much earlier than it happens currently in Ukraine,“ says Anna Shapoval, I-TECH Ukraine Country Representative. “As always, I-TECH is proud to build this new programming not just on the vast evidence and globally acknowledged best practices but also on the mountain of successful experiences in other countries where index testing programs have been initiated and implemented by I-TECH in previous years.”

To strengthen the programmatic response, the forum included a number of speakers and index testing subject matter experts. Dr. Serhii Riabokon, an infectious disease doctor in the PHC’s department of the coordination of treatment programs on HIV, viral hepatitis, and sexually transmitted infections, presented the current legal framework and the state of index testing program implementation in Ukraine. I-TECH’s program and evaluation teams also gave a brief overview of the program including the design as well as the successes and challenges to date. Four well-performing regional sites were also able to share the best practices they used during early program implementation.

Dr. Matthew Golden presents at the Index Testing Forum in Ukraine.
Dr. Matthew Golden shares his experiences in partner services implementation, scale up, and development around the world. Photo Credit: I-TECH Ukraine.

In addition to the index testing program-specific presentations, the forum also included presentations by experts who shared their valuable experiences in partner services implementation, scale-up, and development:

  • Matthew Golden, MD, MPH, Professor at the University of Washington (UW) Department of Medicine’s Division of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and I-TECH faculty member, reviewed the development and challenges of partner services programs around the world, as well as voiced practical recommendations for Ukrainian index testing advancement.
  • Nancy Puttkammer, PhD, MPH, I-TECH faculty and DIGI faculty lead, and Jason Beste, MD, MPH, I-TECH International Clinical Advisor, were on a panel discussion on the ways of overcoming key challenges in index testing implementation.

“A key part of the program is to ensure quality results,” says Shapoval, “and consistent and collaborative learning is paramount to building local capacity.”

December’s forum is just the first of planned, quarterly forums designed to further build local capacities around index testing and quality assurance.

THIS PROJECT 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.