Category Archives: PIs

From Beneficiaries to Mentors: Three Women Pass Their DREAMS On to Others

A group of DREAMS ambassadors in Zimbabwe. Photo credit: Zim-TTECH

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.[1] “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.”

 

[1] 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.

 

I-TECH Celebrates 20 Years

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

On April 1, the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) celebrates 20 years since its founding. It has since grown into the largest center in the Department of Global Health (DGH) and one of the largest centers at the University of Washington (UW).

“We are proud to mark this milestone,” says Dr. Pamela Collins, Executive Director of I-TECH, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and Professor of Global Health at UW. “For 20 years I-TECH has helped to save lives through its support of public health systems in the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Over the years, our scope has broadened, but responsive partnerships with ministries of health, collaborating NGOs, and our donors have been central to the work.”

I-TECH comprises a global network, operating in 17 countries, that fosters healthier communities around the world through equitable partnerships in research, training, and public health practice. Its work is rooted in health care training and draws on a culturally rich community that includes UW faculty, global partners, and U.S. and global staff and students. This community of people with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and opinions encourages learning from one another while working toward high quality, compassionate, and equitable health care.

“COVID-19 has reminded me, and many of us, about the critical and life-saving role of health care workers, a group that often lacks proper support,” says Ivonne X. “Chichi” Butler, Associate Director at I-TECH. “At the same time, collectively, we have come to understand the urgent need for stronger and better prepared health systems to respond to the COVID crisis.

“At I-TECH, these concerns have been at the heart of our work for the past 20 years,” she continues. “We have invested–and continue to invest–in health workers and in the systems in which they work. I am proud to be part of a center that has transformed the delivery of HIV care and treatment in so many countries and that truly puts individuals and communities at the forefront to meet their particular needs.”

I-TECH began in 2002 with its first award, the International AIDS Education & Training Center (IAETC) grant. The IAETC was administered by the Center for Health Education and Research (CHER), within the Department of Health Services (now the Department of Health Systems and Population Health). This was one of CHER’s first forays into what would become known as “global health.”

“The IAETC award was the first of its kind at UW,” says Shelly Tonge-Seymour, Associate Director of I-TECH, who has been with the center for 20 years, “the first to translate lessons from the U.S. to improve the training of health care workers and delivery of care globally.”

With the advent of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in 2003, I-TECH’s portfolio expanded rapidly, reflecting the evolution of PEPFAR from “emergency” to a longer-term investment in health systems strengthening. I-TECH became an official UW center in 2008, a year after joining UW’s new Department of Global Health at the invitation of Dr. King Holmes, then-chair of DGH. “It became clear that we had grown so large that we needed our own administrative core,” says Tonge-Seymour.

Through its work with PEPFAR, I-TECH’s efforts have contributed meaningfully to the huge advancements in HIV prevention, care, and treatment seen across the globe, with a particular emphasis on groups that have been marginalized or stigmatized.

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

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

“I’ve been involved with I-TECH for its entire 20 years, and the most impactful thing for me has been the contribution I-TECH has made in Zimbabwe to supporting the development of lay cadres into primary counselors,” says Abisha Jonga, Senior Program Manager at Zim-TTECH. “This program created a career path for so many, made HIV counseling services more accessible to the general population, demystified HIV testing, and shaped the individuals’ lives.”

Dr. Batsi Makunike, Executive Director of Zim-TTECH, agrees that fostering local connection has been the key to success. “I am particularly proud of the fact that I-TECH has succeeded in nurturing local organizations,” says Dr. Makunike. “Providing full support without competition–that is huge. Without I-TECH, there would be no Zim-TTECH.”

Malawi has seen its health care landscape change dramatically in the past 20 years and is now close to meeting the UNAIDS 95-95-95 targets for the elimination of HIV. Since 2008, I-TECH has partnered with the Malawi Ministry of Health’s Department for HIV and AIDS and helped to generate pioneering policy initiatives such as the 2011 adoption of Option B+ for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV. Option B+ provides universal, lifelong ART for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Based on Malawi’s documented success, the World Health Organization formally adopted Option B+ as a global policy in 2013.

“We truly believe that I-TECH has significantly contributed to the prevention of thousands of infant infections and AIDS deaths among children, adolescents, and mums and dads in Malawi,” says Dr. Andreas Jahn, Senior Technical Advisor with I-TECH Malawi. “We have walked this journey with a whole generation of Malawian HIV program colleagues, and we have learned a tremendous amount from each other.”

I-TECH’s funding has grown from $500,000 for its initial award in 2002 to a cumulative total of more than $1 billion. The center currently has 26 awards, harnessing UW technical expertise in multiple technical areas from mental health to electronic health information systems to global health security and emerging health threats.

As I-TECH has adapted to changing needs, at its core remains a commitment to creating equitable partnerships and facilitating knowledge sharing throughout the I-TECH network, which includes I-TECH’s own country offices, independent partner organizations fledged from I-TECH, ministries of health, academic institutions, community groups, and others.

“When I reflect on the success of I-TECH in reaching the age of 20, two observations keep coming up for me,” says Dr. Ann Downer, co-founder and former Executive Director of I-TECH and Professor Emeritus in the Department of Global Health. “One is about the power of unity. I believe that the ability of a diverse group of individuals and teams to hold a common vision and set of values generates resilience. This unity allows I-TECH to continue operating after 20 years with integrity and grace across enormous geographic, linguistic, and cultural borders and despite regular economic and social challenges.

“The other observation is about the importance of encouraging leadership from all parts of an organization,” she continues. “This requires us to embrace the value of humility and results in our ability to listen and learn. Both are critical actions for successful work anywhere but are essential for working ethically on a global stage.”

The I-TECH story continues to unfold. From a modest grant with limited staff to a vital, resilient, and animated worldwide network of more than 1,600 dedicated personnel, I-TECH will continue to work alongside its global partners in its commitment to stronger health systems and safer, healthier communities.

“There’s so much to celebrate and a wealth of lessons to light the way forward,” says Dr. Collins. “In this era of pandemic, war, and fractured communities, our vision for health is needed now more than ever.”

Nancy Puttkammer Selected for WomenLift Leadership Journey

Dr. Nancy Puttkammer

Nancy Puttkammer, MPH, PhD, was recently selected to the third cohort of the Leadership Journey at WomenLift Health. The initiative, which runs from March 2022 to February 2023, is designed to support women through the challenges and opportunities of leadership positions in global health, with the ultimate goal of expanding its network of talented women leaders.

Dr. Puttkammer is Principal Investigator at the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) and Assistant Professor in the University of Washington (UW) Department of Global Health (DGH). She also serves as Program Director for the Doctor in Global Health and Leadership Practice (DrGH), and her project for the Leadership Journey will focus on augmenting the emphasis on women and leadership within the DrGH curriculum and program.

“I am thrilled to be part of the 2022 US Leadership Journey cohort—an amazing, diverse group of 30 women leaders,” says Dr. Puttkammer. “The participants come from prominent US universities, the World Bank, USAID, CDC, non-profits, and others. They each come with compelling stories, experience, and interests. Although the process has just launched, I am already grateful for the personal insights and the network I am gaining.”

As part of the Leadership Journey, each participant works on a focal project with support from senior mentors and peers. Dr. Puttkammer’s focal project will enhance the DrGH educational framework and curriculum to bring a gendered lens to leadership development, as well as develop mentorship opportunities for students to work with women leaders within and outside of UW.

“I am confident that participating in the Leadership Journey will not only enrich me,” says Dr. Puttkammer, “but will also really help me to enhance the value of the DrGH program for the next generation of global health leaders—both women and men—who join the program.”

The DrGH advances leadership development, including skills to plan evidence-based strategies and programs, catalyze resources, build partnerships across organizational boundaries, motivate teams, strengthen national policies, and manage and lead effective programs in a variety of settings. The DrGH program includes an initial year of didactic courses at UW in Seattle, followed by experiential learning rotations of 6-12 months in three different types of host organizations, such as Ministries of Health, bilateral and multilateral institutions, non-governmental organizations, and private sector companies. UW has recently extended offers of admission for the second DrGH cohort.

 

 

 

Creating a Data Warehouse to Support COVID-19 Surveillance in Mauritius

The Digital Initiatives Group at I-TECH (DIGI) worked closely with the Mauritius Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) to implement a national laboratory information system (LIMS) using OpenELIS and expanded it to create a national-level data warehouse.

The data warehouse captures all the information that has been input into OpenELIS by the two reference labs and all ten regional flu clinics and creates real-time, easy-to-read data dashboards. These dashboards are used by the MOHW staff and public health officials to track national COVID-19 cases numbers and trace ongoing and potential outbreaks of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

DIGI continues to support MOHW with LIMS training, LIMS maintenance, and national laboratory strengthening.

Implementing a National Laboratory Information System in Mauritius

Since 2020, the Digital Initiative Group at I-TECH (DIGI)  has worked closely with the Mauritius Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) to deploy a national laboratory information management system (LIMS) using the OpenELIS platform. The LIMS connects the national reference laboratory to regional laboratories and flu clinics around the country to quickly process COVID-19 tests, as well as send results notifications to patients via text message or email.

The OpenELIS system, while implemented to support COVID-19 surveillance, was also designed to be able to support most routine lab workflows, including HIV viral load testing and other other infectious diseases (e.g., HIV, Ebola, Zika, Chikungunya), which ensures MOHW can quickly trace, respond to, and manage cases.

DIGI continues to support MOHW with LIMS training, LIMS maintenance, and national laboratory strengthening.

Optimizing the COVID-19 Testing Process at the Airport in Mauritius

As a measure to help stop the spread of COVID-19, the Government of Mauritius began requiring that all arriving passengers submit to COVID-19 health screenings upon arrival in Mauritius. To rapidly process the influx of tests and quickly notify passengers of their results, the Digital Initiatives Group at I-TECH (DIGI) worked closely with the Mauritius Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) to digitize the COVID-19 screening declaration form for all passengers arriving to the Mauritius International Airport and supported MOHW in opening a COVID-19 reference laboratory at the airport to rapidly process the tests and send notifications of COVID-19 tests passengers.

The airport laboratory is connected to the National Reference Laboratory via OpenELIS, which allows all the data captured on the digital form, such as passenger information and COVID-19 screenings/test results, to assist public health officials from all over Mauritius to carry out surveillance and contact tracing efforts.

Since opening in December 2020, the airport reference laboratory has returned over 250,000 tests and continues to process thousands of tests to passengers and citizens of Mauritius daily.

Using Project ECHO in Malawi

The Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO) Project® was developed by the University of New Mexico to improve care for underserved populations using a hub-and-spoke approach of knowledge-sharing by video-conferencing technology. The Lighthouse ECHO project provides a platform for sharing critical, timely, and life-saving information and data with health care workers (HCWs) located in different locations and facilitates peer-to-peer interactions among local, regional, and international experts using real-time, video-conferencing technology.

Lighthouse, a long-standing I-TECH implementing partner, is a World Health Organization-recognized clinic for integrated HIV prevention, treatment, and care in Malawi, serving approximately 60,000 antiretroviral therapy patients across the country. Lighthouse is an established HIV education site and has been involved in capacity building in pre- and in-service trainings for staff from the Ministry of Health as well as non-governmental organizations and implementing partners for many years.

Since April 2020, Lighthouse’s Project ECHO has conducted 67 sessions and has served 4,150 participants on COVID-19, HIV, and tuberculosis topics.

Birth Defects Surveillance in Malawi

Malawi is one of first countries in Southeast Africa to respond to the World Health Organization’s call for robust birth surveillance systems. Routine surveillance is essential for public health monitoring of pregnancy outcomes and birth defects, especially in high-HIV burden settings where women living with HIV initiate the use of antiretroviral therapy before or during pregnancy.

Since 2016, the International Training and Education Center for Health, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has supported the implementation of an active hospital-based birth surveillance system at four high-volume facilities in Malawi. To date, a total of 165,608 of births have been assessed. A subset of women are also enrolled in an ongoing nested case control study to assess associations between external birth defects and maternal exposures such as prior health conditions, medications, and environmental and lifestyle factors.

Anticipated use of these data include:

  • Establish a baseline prevalence of external birth defects in Malawi
  • Evaluate the impact of introducing new drugs for the management of HIV (e.g., dolutegravir) on the prevalence of external birth defects
  • Advocate for investment in programs and interventions to reduce the occurrence of birth defects and adverse pregnancy outcomes.

I-TECH Supports First VACS in Namibia

The International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH), under the leadership of Government of Namibia ministries overseeing child welfare and health and in close collaboration with the Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA), UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), supported the implementation of Namibia’s first Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS).

Cover of Namibia VACS Report

The final Namibia VACS report was published by the Government of Namibia and Together for Girls, a global partnership working to end violence against children, on 28 September 2021. Photo Credit: Together for Girls: www.togetherforgirls.org/.

VACS are national surveys that measure the prevalence and impact of violence on children and youth around the world. The survey results help inform future program decisions and policy approaches to ensure the safety of children and youth. On 28 September 2021, the Day of the Namibian Child, the Government of Namibia published the final Namibia VACS report.

The survey, funded by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and led by the Ministry of Gender Equality, Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare (MGEPESW), interviewed households with children aged 13-24 years in all 14 regions of Namibia from March 2019 through June 2019.

Survey operations—including data collection by field teams, data generation, and analysis—were carried out by the NSA, the central statistical authority responsible for all official statistics in Namibia. “It has been a pleasure working together with the Ministry of Gender Equality, the University of Washington, I-TECH, and CDC on this important survey,” says Ottilie Mwazi, Namibia’s Deputy Statistician General. “Our team has learned a lot from the process and is very proud to have contributed important data that will help to improve child welfare in Namibia.”

Prior to data collection, I-TECH alongside CDC colleagues hosted a two-week training for 130 enumerators, focused on best practices for data collection, interview techniques, and key aspects of the survey protocols. In addition to supporting VACS training, I-TECH and the Ministry of Health and Social Services (MoHSS) ensured all selected enumerators were trained and certified by the Namibia Institute of Pathology to conduct HIV rapid testing so any survey respondent aged 14-24 years who did not know their HIV status and wanted a test during their interview could immediately be tested.

In total, 5,191 individual interviews among 6,042 households (86.35% overall response rate) and 3,232 HIV rapid tests were conducted as part of data collection. Any respondent testing positive for HIV during the survey was linked to psychosocial and HIV/AIDS care and support in line with well-established MoHSS guidelines and the survey protocol.

Expanding Post-Violence Clinical Care

The survey results have informed important initiatives across Namibia’s wider social welfare and health systems. MGEPESW has moved forward with drafting the National Action Plan on Violence against Children and has accelerated the training of various child welfare stakeholders such as police officers and social workers, while operationalizing the establishment of more child shelters in several regions.

“The data coming out of Namibia’s VACS have really brought home how prevalent and serious violence against children and adolescents really is,” says Helena Andjamba, Director for Child Welfare at MGEPESW. “Having these hard facts readily available has helped greatly during our policy and planning engagement with multiple stakeholders during the past year. We are now moving forward with the Ministry of Justice in drafting a new Child Justice Bill, and at the same time we are engaged with the Ministry of Education on strengthening the National School Safety Framework.”

Following the completion of the survey, the MoHSS convened a technical working group with I-TECH, the World Health Organization, UNFPA, Project Hope, and other stakeholders to coordinate and strengthen first-line post-violence clinical care in primary health care facilities across Namibia. I-TECH also supported the compilation of clinical guidance on emergency care for survivors of sexual violence and its inclusion in the 2021 edition of the Namibia Standard Treatment Guidelines published by the MoHSS.

Much of the focus during the second half of 2021 was on integrating post-gender-based violence (GBV) clinical care in MoHSS HIV/AIDS clinics and antiretroviral therapy (ART) services throughout Namibia. As part of this work, I-TECH conducted a mentorship training-of-trainers for 28 HIV clinical providers, nurses, and testing services staff. These mentors now provide ongoing technical guidance and supportive supervision to frontline health workers through monthly facility visits.

To further improve post-violence care in clinics, I-TECH compiled a GBV care implementation guide for Namibian healthcare providers. This includes elaboration of best practices, as well as a suite of materials including posters, pamphlets, job aids, and a pocket booklet for communities, clients, health workers, and health facility managers, respectively. An intimate partner violence/GBV screening tool to be administered to ART patients with persistent high viral loads is also currently being piloted in ten health facilities.