The International AIDS Society (IAS) hosted the 12th IAS Conference on HIV Science on 23 – 26 July 2023 in Brisbane, Australia, and virtually. This biennial conference brings together top HIV researchers, experts, and scientists for presentations and discussions on the latest advances in HIV research and practice.
This year, representatives from the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH), I-TECH’s partner network organizations, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shared findings from I-TECH-supported programs in India, Malawi, and Zimbabwe. Read the ePoster abstracts below.
“I-TECH prides itself on working collaboratively with our international partners. We held the principle from day one that the most successful programs happen when the locus of control sits in-country,” said Marrianne Holec, Senior Program Manager at I-TECH. “We had the foundation in place with our local staff, what was missing was the organizational structure to allow the team in-country to truly lead the project. With the formation of Zim-TTECH, I’m happy to say we are there.”
Among USG funders, it’s recognized that future models for sustainable healthcare rely on local country ownership and leadership. But making the transition from US-based ownership to country ownership isn’t a one-time event, added Holec, “It’s a process that takes time. We wanted to document our process so that other international organizations who are looking to pursue decolonizing global health programming can learn from our experience.”
Through 16 key informant interviews, the team gathered views on transition planning, implementation, and technical support, ethics, and success. Five themes emerged from the data collected:
Develop a vision and empower leadership for change by delegating clear roles and supporting local ownership;
Plan and strategize for transition in a manner that accounts for historical context;
Communicate with and inform stakeholders to understand transition perceptions, understand barriers to transition, and enable open communications related to risks and benefits;
Engage and mobilize staff by constructing necessary infrastructure and providing technical assistance as needed; and
Define short-term and long-term success.
“Sustainability of successful donor funded public health programs is critical if we want to maintain the important gains that have been made over the years,” says Dr. Batsi Makunike, Executive Director of Zim-TTECH. “Strong local organizations with good governance, management, and technical capacities are an important cornerstone of sustainability.
“The process of transitioning from an international to a local organization is daunting,” she continues. “We hope that this study is helpful to other organizations in their efforts to transition.”
 Goosby E, Von Zinkernagel D, Holmes C, Haroz D, Walsh T. Raising the Bar: PEPFAR and New Paradigms for Global Health. JAIDS Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes. 2012;60.
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:
After facing incredible obstacles, three resilient 22-year-old women from Tsholotsho District, Zimbabwe, found their lives intersecting: Sitheni, Clemencia, and Faith are DREAMS ambassadors, equipping adolescent girls and young women with skills to reduce their vulnerability to contracting HIV–and helping them to find their own strengths.
DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe) is a PEPFAR-funded program that aims to reduce HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women through not only prevention and treatment, but also a core curriculum that addresses HIV prevention, financial literacy, and gender-based violence (GBV). Participants can also access services such as HIV testing, family planning, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), counseling, and screening for GBV.
The International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) has been supporting the Zimbabwe Technical Assistance, Training and Education Center for Health (Zim-TTECH) and its ZimPAAC consortium to implement the DREAMS program since 2020. To date, nearly 20,000 girls and young women in Zimbabwe have completed the primary DREAMS curriculum, Health for Life.
Sitheni, Clemencia, and Faith were initially enrolled in the DREAMS program as beneficiaries, having turned to transactional relationships (trading sex for money or necessities) to survive poverty amid the deepening economic crisis in Zimbabwe. They now use their own experiences to give back to young women who face similar choices.
Sitheni had to abandon her life-long goal of attending university to support her parents and four siblings; carrying the burden of sole provider for her family took a toll on her. When earnings from her part-time jobs weren’t enough, she became involved in sexual relationships with older, cross-border traders—known as omalayitsha—to make extra money.
Once enrolled in the DREAMS program, she thrived within the Health for Life courses, which cover financial literacy, social asset building, condom education, and violence and HIV prevention. “I encourage young girls in my community not to depend on men, but to use their skills instead of waiting to be given money by men who will abuse them,” Sitheni says.
Training and services are often provided in a safe space such as a school or community center, where participants meet with a mentor trained to deliver the Health for Life curriculum.
“At the moment I mentor 140 adolescent girls and young women aged 15-24 in the district,” says Faith, who also dated older men for money in order to make ends meet. “It is my duty to link adolescents with the district clinical nurse to access services at health facilities and safe spaces. I also encourage women to support people living with HIV/AIDS in the community. I teach them about human rights and encourage them to utilize their talents to make a living.”
Another part of Faith’s job is enrolling and following up on beneficiaries as well as supporting community-based facilitators who teach social asset building. This includes facilitating relationships and connections within DREAMS safe spaces to share encouragement and survival skills.
These safe spaces were critical to providing hope and new options for Clemencia. “After my father passed away, there was no one to pay for my school fees,” she says. “I came to my wits’ end, and I ended up exchanging sex for livelihood. At that time, it seemed the only viable option.”
Clemencia traded sex for two-and-a-half years, placing her among those at highest risk for HIV acquisition in Zimbabwe. “Luckily for me, I did not get infected with HIV,” she says. “Ever since joining DREAMS, I have become empowered, and I know how to protect myself from sexual violence.”
Thanks to what she learned in her financial literacy sessions, Clemencia has started a small business of breeding hens and selling them to community members. “I also sell clothes for extra income,” says Clemencia, who now encourages other young women to complete their financial literacy sessions so they can start their own businesses and become independent.
Faith is thrilled to be able to foster this independence, as well. “Little did I know that I could make an honest living without anyone having expectations from me,” she says. “I am now able to encourage other girls and young women to stop engaging in transactional relationships. I am able to do this because I have been mentored and I have knowledge about HIV/AIDS and violence against women.”
 Chiyaka T, Mushati P, Hensen B et al. Reaching young women who sell sex: Methods and results of social mapping to describe and identify young women for DREAMS impact evaluation in Zimbabwe. PLoS One. 2018 Mar 15;13(3):e0194301. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0194301. eCollection 2018.
On April 1, the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) celebrates 20 years since its founding. It has since grown into the largest center in the Department of Global Health (DGH) and one of the largest centers at the University of Washington (UW).
“We are proud to mark this milestone,” says Dr. Pamela Collins, Executive Director of I-TECH, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and Professor of Global Health at UW. “For 20 years I-TECH has helped to save lives through its support of public health systems in the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Over the years, our scope has broadened, but responsive partnerships with ministries of health, collaborating NGOs, and our donors have been central to the work.”
I-TECH comprises a global network, operating in 17 countries, that fosters healthier communities around the world through equitable partnerships in research, training, and public health practice. Its work is rooted in health care training and draws on a culturally rich community that includes UW faculty, global partners, and U.S. and global staff and students. This community of people with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and opinions encourages learning from one another while working toward high quality, compassionate, and equitable health care.
“COVID-19 has reminded me, and many of us, about the critical and life-saving role of health care workers, a group that often lacks proper support,” says Ivonne X. “Chichi” Butler, Associate Director at I-TECH. “At the same time, collectively, we have come to understand the urgent need for stronger and better prepared health systems to respond to the COVID crisis.
“At I-TECH, these concerns have been at the heart of our work for the past 20 years,” she continues. “We have invested–and continue to invest–in health workers and in the systems in which they work. I am proud to be part of a center that has transformed the delivery of HIV care and treatment in so many countries and that truly puts individuals and communities at the forefront to meet their particular needs.”
I-TECH began in 2002 with its first award, the International AIDS Education & Training Center (IAETC) grant. The IAETC was administered by the Center for Health Education and Research (CHER), within the Department of Health Services (now the Department of Health Systems and Population Health). This was one of CHER’s first forays into what would become known as “global health.”
“The IAETC award was the first of its kind at UW,” says Shelly Tonge-Seymour, Associate Director of I-TECH, who has been with the center for 20 years, “the first to translate lessons from the U.S. to improve the training of health care workers and delivery of care globally.”
With the advent of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in 2003, I-TECH’s portfolio expanded rapidly, reflecting the evolution of PEPFAR from “emergency” to a longer-term investment in health systems strengthening. I-TECH became an official UW center in 2008, a year after joining UW’s new Department of Global Health at the invitation of Dr. King Holmes, then-chair of DGH. “It became clear that we had grown so large that we needed our own administrative core,” says Tonge-Seymour.
Through its work with PEPFAR, I-TECH’s efforts have contributed meaningfully to the huge advancements in HIV prevention, care, and treatment seen across the globe, with a particular emphasis on groups that have been marginalized or stigmatized.
“I’ve been involved with I-TECH for its entire 20 years, and the most impactful thing for me has been the contribution I-TECH has made in Zimbabwe to supporting the development of lay cadres into primary counselors,” says Abisha Jonga, Senior Program Manager at Zim-TTECH. “This program created a career path for so many, made HIV counseling services more accessible to the general population, demystified HIV testing, and shaped the individuals’ lives.”
Dr. Batsi Makunike, Executive Director of Zim-TTECH, agrees that fostering local connection has been the key to success. “I am particularly proud of the fact that I-TECH has succeeded in nurturing local organizations,” says Dr. Makunike. “Providing full support without competition–that is huge. Without I-TECH, there would be no Zim-TTECH.”
Malawi has seen its health care landscape change dramatically in the past 20 years and is now close to meeting the UNAIDS 95-95-95 targets for the elimination of HIV. Since 2008, I-TECH has partnered with the Malawi Ministry of Health’s Department for HIV and AIDS and helped to generate pioneering policy initiatives such as the 2011 adoption of Option B+ for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV. Option B+ provides universal, lifelong ART for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Based on Malawi’s documented success, the World Health Organization formally adopted Option B+ as a global policy in 2013.
“We truly believe that I-TECH has significantly contributed to the prevention of thousands of infant infections and AIDS deaths among children, adolescents, and mums and dads in Malawi,” says Dr. Andreas Jahn, Senior Technical Advisor with I-TECH Malawi. “We have walked this journey with a whole generation of Malawian HIV program colleagues, and we have learned a tremendous amount from each other.”
I-TECH’s funding has grown from $500,000 for its initial award in 2002 to a cumulative total of more than $1 billion. The center currently has 26 awards, harnessing UW technical expertise in multiple technical areas from mental health to electronic health information systems to global health security and emerging health threats.
As I-TECH has adapted to changing needs, at its core remains a commitment to creating equitable partnerships and facilitating knowledge sharing throughout the I-TECH network, which includes I-TECH’s own country offices, independent partner organizations fledged from I-TECH, ministries of health, academic institutions, community groups, and others.
“When I reflect on the success of I-TECH in reaching the age of 20, two observations keep coming up for me,” says Dr. Ann Downer, co-founder and former Executive Director of I-TECH and Professor Emeritus in the Department of Global Health. “One is about the power of unity. I believe that the ability of a diverse group of individuals and teams to hold a common vision and set of values generates resilience. This unity allows I-TECH to continue operating after 20 years with integrity and grace across enormous geographic, linguistic, and cultural borders and despite regular economic and social challenges.
“The other observation is about the importance of encouraging leadership from all parts of an organization,” she continues. “This requires us to embrace the value of humility and results in our ability to listen and learn. Both are critical actions for successful work anywhere but are essential for working ethically on a global stage.”
The I-TECH story continues to unfold. From a modest grant with limited staff to a vital, resilient, and animated worldwide network of more than 1,600 dedicated personnel, I-TECH will continue to work alongside its global partners in its commitment to stronger health systems and safer, healthier communities.
“There’s so much to celebrate and a wealth of lessons to light the way forward,” says Dr. Collins. “In this era of pandemic, war, and fractured communities, our vision for health is needed now more than ever.”
For the past 10 months, Kayla Cody-Lushozi has served as the inaugural Global Health Program Officer for I-TECH’S Global Health Leadership Development Program. The aim of this program is to support the development of skills in global health program implementation, management, and leadership for recent master’s degree graduates with diverse backgrounds who are transitioning into the public health field.
This program is structured to directly support the programmatic needs of multiple I-TECH projects while providing the Program Officer with mentorship across the I-TECH network and supporting the transition into a non-temporary global health position. In 2019, Cody-Lushozi received her Master’s in Social Work (MSW) from the University of Washington (UW) and has used this background, along with her unique experiences and expertise, to inform her work at I-TECH.
During her time as a Program Officer, Cody-Lushozi has worked with three teams across the I-TECH network, plunging into a few of the many areas of work I-TECH implements and supports. In collaboration with partners from FHI 360 and leaders from the Cambodian Ministry of Health, Cody-Lushozi supported a health informatics program, working to streamline databases and strengthen health systems in Cambodia. Additionally, she explored how to revive Community Advisory Boards for people living with HIV (PLHIV) in Jamaica in a sustainable and community-centered way with I-TECH network partner the Caribbean Training and Education Center for Health (C-TECH). She worked with community partners in Zimbabwe, as well, exploring the support systems in place for case managers supporting young PLHIV. This work was done with I-TECH partner the Zimbabwe Technical Assistance, Training and Education Center for Health (Zim-TTECH).
September marks the end of Cody-Lushozi’s time with I-TECH. Below, she shares some reflections on her time in the Leadership Development Program, as well as what might come next.
What has the experience of being a Program Officer at I-TECH meant to you?
This has been an incredible experience, and it came at a perfect time. Right before I-TECH, I was working at the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services doing direct service social work with economically marginalized clients with mental and physical health needs. While I enjoyed this role and understood its importance, this was not the type of social work practice that I wanted to pursue in the long run.
My passion and interests lie in research, especially community-centered research that allows me to work directly with Black communities in improving access to health justice. I-TECH came along at the right time and allowed me to dive deeper into the world of global health implementation.
The projects I’ve done at I-TECH have been really varied, and I’ve gotten an inside look and experience across different areas. I am constantly learning at I-TECH. I-TECH does a million things, which might have been overwhelming to a new person entering the organization, but I always felt very supported by my teams. They made it clear that I didn’t need to have all the answers.
I also appreciate that this program aims to attract a diversity of experience, background, and perspective. It encourages more than just a singular lens. I’ve been able to share my unique background and experiences as a Black woman social worker in global health. I’m excited to see where this program goes and how it continues to support I-TECH’s evolution.
This has been a beautiful experience for me. Working at I-TECH served as a great affirmation that this is the area of work that I want to continue to grow in.
How has your background in social work shaped how you’ve entered the global health field?
Before getting my MSW I already had an interest in public health, even before I was calling what I was doing public health. I wanted to use the framework and the lens that social work provides within a public health setting. I always gravitate toward work that is community-centered and centers the voices and expertise of those in the margins. These are some of the values that I bring with me into the global health space and that I hold very close to my professional and personal practice.
These values have helped me in this field because public and global health work is not always operating from the pillars of anti-oppressive practice. There’s so much historical and contemporary discourse that needs to be addressed and often isn’t in this field. You can’t be ahistorical if you’re truly trying to get to the root causes of global health inequity and injustice. Many of the issues that we see in global health are connected to issues of global white supremacy, imperialism, and resource extraction. It’s a tension that I hold in this field but something I try to do my part to shed light on.
You have done a lot of meaningful work during your time with I-TECH. What does your life look like when you’re not working?
I’ve gone through a lot of life changes these past 10 months. I’m a newlywed; I got married in June to my now husband Mawande. Being a new wife is really exciting.
A big chunk of my husband’s and my time outside of work is dedicated to our small homemade skincare business, K+M Homemade Skincare, that we officially launched during COVID. We do a lot of farmer’s markets and pop-ups on the weekends. Ask anyone and they can tell you that we love making and talking about our skincare.
In what direction do you see yourself moving after I-TECH?
After I-TECH, I see myself continuing to engage in global and public health spaces that are truly committed to community work and radical racial and social justice transformation. I am not comfortable doing this work in the absence of working directly with community members and local stakeholders. Top-down approaches have colonial and imperialist roots. I believe in doing “with” and not doing “to” and actively partnering with communities for long-term sustainability and quality health care reform.
I will be packing up and moving to South Africa in 2022 and am currently open to a position that will allow me to continue to practice in this exciting field. My interests lie in research, project management, and implementation work related to HIV care and treatment, maternal and child health, and mental health. I am also contemplating pursuing an MPH or a PhD in global health and implementation science sometime in the future. It’s been an incredible past 10 months with I-TECH and I am excited to stay in contact with this global network. I thank everyone who has been part of this journey with me!
The I-TECH network thanks Kayla Cody-Lushozi for her work and wishes her well as she continues to forge her path in global health!
If you are interested in participating in the Global Health Leadership Development Program, more information is available here.
In a time of increased barriers, disruptions, and restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) and its network partners have implemented new approaches and adapted existing programs to support continued access to antiretroviral therapy (ART).
As a result of the pandemic, many organizations and health systems have had to shift to offering virtual care, which allows ART initiation and other HIV services to persist while minimizing patients’ risk of exposure to COVID-19. However, not all patients have access to the technology that makes virtual services possible, and additional approaches are needed to support ART treatment access during this time.
“Globally, the pandemic has generated innovative responses from communities and health systems that are striving to keep people connected to care,” says Dr. Pamela Collins, I-TECH Executive Director. “One challenge is to recognize how (or when) some adaptations increase disparities in access. We’ve learned that the right combinations of technological and no-tech solutions can also be innovative if they help provide the care that’s needed.”
One way I-TECH has helped to provide innovative care during the pandemic is by centering solutions within the affected communities themselves. A few of the community-oriented approaches that the I-TECH network has implemented include decentralized ART centers, community outreach, home delivery, community adherence refill groups (CARGs), and multi-month dispensing (MMD) of antiretroviral (ARV) medication.
Decentralized ART Refill Sites and Community Outreach
Decentralized refill sites have been an essential strategy during lockdown restrictions for I-TECH’s network partners because they allow ART to be distributed at more convenient locations, minimizing travel and treatment interruptions. Some programs have also started providing mobile outreach to improve ART access during the pandemic, at times even providing doorstep delivery to those who are unable to go to a clinic or refill center.
I-TECH’s network partner in India, the UW International Training & Education Centre for Health Private Limited (I-TECH India) launched the ARTMitra helpline in Mumbai, an outreach effort designed to map the location of unreachable PLHIV and aid in planning decentralized ART refill sites. SMS messages were delivered to 13,103 PLHIV who had missed appointments during the pandemic, resulting in the identification of 42 decentralized ART refill centers in Mumbai in 2020. A similar helpline was launched in five districts of the state of Mizoram in partnership with the State AIDS Control Society. In total, I-TECH India, in close coordination with government partners in the PEPFAR states in Northeast India and in Mumbai, has ensured uninterrupted ART delivery through 145 decentralized ART refill sites.
Through outreach efforts, clients were notified about how they could access medication, and which decentralized ART refill site they should visit. Additionally, ART home delivery was provided to 255 PLHIV living in Mumbai who were unable to pick up their medication.
Thank you for calling and informing me about the availability of medicine at the nearby ART Centre, as I had no idea whom to contact and how to collect medicine.
—an ARTMitra client in Mumbai
I-TECH network partner the Zimbabwe Technical Assistance, Training and Education Center for Health (Zim-TTECH) has also utilized community outreach to support PLHIV during the pandemic. Zim-TTECH has supported the Zimbabwe Partnership to Accelerate AIDS Control (ZimPAAC) consortium—along with PEPFAR partners, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and in close collaboration with national efforts—to provide mobile HIV care, including prevention services and integrated services at ART events. In the Harare District, 8,257 clients were supplied ART during outreach events from 28 March through 17 July 2021.
Community Adherence Refill Groups and Multi-Month ART Dispensing
Through CARGs, a community of PLHIV access treatment more easily by sending a representative to receive ARVs for the entire group. The I-TECH network implements CARGs in a number of countries, using the person-centered approach to simplify HIV care and reduce the need for in-person services. This approach is often used in tandem with MMD, allowing a group to access multiple months of medication at a time.
While ARVs have traditionally been prescribed monthly, MMD allows patients to pick up medication for 2 to 6 months and reduces traditional barriers, such as access to transportation and taking time off work, as well as barriers specific to COVID-19, such as lockdown restrictions and limited capacity of health care facilities. I-TECH and its network partners have scaled up MMD in many programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, effectively minimizing the number of in-person visits and encouraging ART adherence.
In response to COVID-19 and in partnership with CDC, the Ministry of Health and Social Services (MoHSS) in Namibia introduced a new MMD policy in April 2020 for eligible ART patients, making more people eligible for this service than ever before. In addition to policy support, I-TECH Namibia is engaged in technical support to the national HIV/AIDS program through clinical mentors who work in more than half of Namibia’s health districts. This national engagement has contributed to a rapid increase in the number of eligible ART patients who now receive between 2 to 6 months’ supply of ARVs at a time.
‘’As the number of ART patients on MMD increased, waiting areas in Namibia’s health facilities have rapidly decongested, enhancing COVID-19 infection prevention and control measures,” says Dr. Norbert Forster, I-TECH Namibia’s Country Director. “At the same time, our HIV clinicians now have more time to focus their care on patient engagement and on enhancing viral load suppression and other interventions.”
I-TECH’S WORK IN INDIA IS SUPPORTED BY THE HEALTH RESOURCES AND SERVICES ADMINISTRATION (HRSA) OF THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES (HHS) UNDER U91HA06801, THE INTERNATIONAL AIDS EDUCATION AND TRAINING CENTER (IAETC). THE CONTENT OF THIS POST IS THE AUTHOR’S AND SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED AS THE OFFICIAL POSITION OR POLICY OF, NOR SHOULD ANY ENDORSEMENTS BE INFERRED BY HRSA, HHS OR THE U.S. GOVERNMENT.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has severely hindered critical work on cervical cancer interventions, including reduced clinic flow, training opportunities, and outreach.
Due to agile programs and dedicated staff, several teams within the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) network, despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, have continued to make strides toward the WHO cervical cancer elimination goal.
Record-breaking cervical cancer screening in Namibia
The I-TECH Namibia program focuses on cervical cancer screening services for women living with HIV (WLHIV). Namibia’s national antiretroviral therapy (ART) program has rapidly adjusted to COVID-19 and the need to decongest public health facilities through multi-month dispensing (MMD) of ART. While this has helped with ART access, it has significantly reduced opportunities for performing facility-based services, since the frequency of health facility visits by women on ART has declined rapidly.
In close collaboration with the Namibia Ministry of Health and Social Services (MoHSS), I-TECH is implementing enhanced facility-based screening campaigns to increase access and rapidly reach more women. For these enhanced screenings, clients within a district are mobilized and given paced appointment times at several facilities in-line with COVID-19 restrictions. Service providers are then assigned to the specific sites where they provide screening services.
From 8-12 February, 805 women were screened through visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) or Pap smear, 95% of whom were women living with HIV (WLHIV). Of the 137 women screened VIA positive, 98% received treatment. This campaign broke national records by achieving the highest recorded number of women screened in a 5-day campaign, as well as the highest number of women screened in a single day (210).
“As the COVID 19 pandemic rages on, and preventative restrictions limit client screening, the downtime should be used in planning for catch-up screening activities,” says Dr. Laura Muzingwani, I-TECH’s Cervical Cancer Lead Physician in Namibia. “Resource and client mobilization are both key to prepare for any window of opportunity when COVID restrictions are relaxed to enable rapid mass screening.”
Mentoring and training continues in Mozambique via videoconferencing technology
In close collaboration with the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center—a Project ECHO® “superhub” for oncology—I-TECH has continued its monthly cervical cancer ECHO sessions in Mozambique, with an additional focus on COVID-19 safety and risk reduction. An average of 40 participants attend each session, and topics have included cervical changes in older women; relevance of normal and abnormal colposcopic findings; and hygiene, disinfection, and asepsis of materials.
“Although the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic was sudden, it was possible to adapt quickly using remote information and communication technologies,” says Dr. Ernestina David, Program Manager for the I-TECH Cervical Cancer Prevention Program. “The ECHO videoconference sessions made it possible to bring together providers across the country to address uterine cancer and diagnose and treat pre-cancerous lesions, using local cases and looking for ways to approach and treat them.”
In addition, the Mozambique team has continued its regional cervical cancer trainings in a blended format (both virtual and in-person components). I-TECH has implemented three trainings using a model spearheaded by MD Anderson, wherein a two-day LEEP and colposcopy training was adjusted so that trainers could join via Zoom in lieu of traveling to Mozambique.
While some participants join only the Zoom sessions, others are able to watch the sessions from a classroom setting and then work through skills-building demo stations, followed by practice on patients at a provincial hospital.
Access to services increase through health communication in Malawi
Despite the Malawi government indicating cervical cancer screening, care, and treatment as priority services, after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country, most facilities did not include cervical cancer services on their priority lists. Facilities either completely suspended or heavily reduced screening and treatment. This, coupled with fears among targeted women about contracting COVID-19, marginalized access to services.
To combat these challenges, I-TECH delivered health talks within communities on how women can protect themselves as they access services (social distancing, hand washing, use of face masks, etc.). Those reached were encouraged to pass on information to others.
I-TECH also engaged district health officers and those in charge of affected facilities on the need to continue providing cervical cancer services, in line with MOH COVID-19 prevention guidelines. Presenters emphasized the burden of cervical cancer and how it would worsen should services be interrupted for the entirety of the pandemic. Discussion also touched on including cervical cancer providers on the rotation roster and ensuring that commodities were available.
In Malawi, 391 health facilities are currently providing cervical cancer screening services, and 80% of those health facilities are also providing treatment services. More than a quarter of a million women were screened between January 2020 and June 2021, 57% of whom were WLHIV.
Zimbabwe consortium takes measures to blunt the impact of COVID-19
I-TECH and its network partner the Zimbabwe Training, Technical Assistance and Education Center for Health (Zim-TTECH) implement cervical cancer screening and treatment via the local Zimbabwean consortium ZimPAAC.
By March 2021, ZimPAAC had achieved 53% of the annual target for the number of women on ART screened for cervical cancer. ZimPAAC implemented several measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on continuity of cervical cancer screening services, including:
Training of all health care workers on COVID-19 safety and security, transmission, and prevention;
Support to ensure infection prevention and control (IPC) and triage at health facilities through training, procurement and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE), hand washing stations/commodities, face masks for both staff and clients in need; and
Procurement and distribution adequate PPE for use by health care workers at facilities.
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:
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:
Malango Msukwa, BSc, MPHc, I-TECH Malawi Monitoring, Evaluation, and Data Manager, received a scholarship from IAS to attend AIDS 2020: Virtual and presented a late-breaker e-poster on a study that evaluated the uptake of a new HIV surveillance system and described which populations have continued HIV transmission titled, “Characterizing recent infections among persons with new HIV-1 diagnoses in Malawi.”
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.