Category Archives: Gabrielle O’Malley

I-TECH Launches Cervical Cancer Awareness Campaign in Namibia

The International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH), in collaboration with the Namibian Ministry of Health and Social Services (MOHSS) and with funding from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the importance of screening for and treatment of cervical pre-cancer in women aged 20–49.

This awareness campaign is the most recent expansion of the Namibian Cervical Cancer Screening and Treatment Program, which was rolled out in 2018 following the adoption of national cervical cancer guidelines by the MOHSS in March 2018.

MoHSS Health extension worker and data clerk capturing data for the National Cervical Cancer Program.

The rollout of this awareness campaign and expansion of the program has been especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic because patients may be less likely to visit their health care provider for preventive care, including cervical cancer screening and treatment.

“This campaign will bring a much-needed awareness to not only screening but also the different treatment options that are available,” says Dr. Laura Muzingwani, I-TECH’s Cervical Cancer Prevention Lead Physician in Namibia. “We want to ensure that all women, particularly HIV-positive women, are empowered to take action and get screened for cervical cancer. We also want to inform women that they can still be safely screened despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

Screening and treatment are available to anyone who needs it, but the I-TECH program has focused its efforts on HIV-positive women. Women living with HIV are five to six times more likely to develop cervical cancer than HIV-negative women, even if they are on antiretroviral therapy (ART). Currently, the I-TECH program supports screening and treatment at 31 MOHSS health facilities and 11 outreach sites in seven regions across Namibia. As of August 2020, the program had performed more than 14,000 screenings and 1,700 treatment procedures for HIV-positive women.

“The cervical cancer program has achieved a lot of success within a short period,” says Dr. Laimi Ashipala, MOHSS Chief Medical Officer HIV/AIDS and STI Control subdivision. “With these additional outreach and awareness efforts, we hope to reach 100,000 HIV-positive women in the next two years.”

As part of the campaign’s outreach efforts to reach HIV-positive women, I-TECH is contacting women receiving ART to offer cervical cancer screenings during their routine medication pick-up visits. The team is also reaching out to community-based ART refill groups as a way to bring screening services to HIV-positive women at community meeting points.

Expanding and Adapting the Health Care Provider Training Program

VIA provider providing VIA services.

In addition to awareness and outreach, the program has expanded cervical cancer screening and treatment training for health care providers (e.g., doctors, registered and enrolled nurses).

“Key aspects of the program have been the training and uptake of our health care providers,” explains Dr. Ashipala. “We are scaling up our efforts to train and certify health care providers in using VIA and ablative treatments throughout the country. In addition to VIA and ablative treatments, we have also expanded training and certification to include LLETZ and cervical biopsies, which allows us to treat patients who may not be eligible for ablative treatments.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to adjustments in the way trainings are provided for the safety of facilitators and participants and to aid in pandemic control efforts. In response, I-TECH supported a virtual MOHSS VIA (visual inspection with acetic acid or VIA) screening training for nine, newly recruited cervical cancer screening health care providers. Since the program began in 2018, I-TECH and MOHSS have trained 249 health care providers.

Creating a Suite of Informational Materials

This Cervical Cancer Prevention brochure is one of several pieces in a suite of materials created by I-TECH.

I-TECH, in collaboration with stakeholders, has developed a suite of materials—flyers, brochures, and posters—for patients and providers to complement the outreach and training efforts.

The materials highlight the importance of screening, encourage women to make an appointment, explain the method of screening, and provide information about the treatment options that are offered through the program.

The materials will be used by health care providers during health education sessions with patients, distributed to women when they visit their health care facility or ART clinic, and following screening and/or treatment appointments. Some of the materials will also be displayed at health facilities and referral hospitals to advertise screening availability.

“We applaud the Ministry for highlighting the need for cervical cancer prevention, screening, and treatment despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and taking action by collaborating in the development of resources, adopting guidelines for providers, and supporting training for health care providers,” says Dr. Muzingwani.

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.

Empowering Young Mothers in Namibia

A young woman learning to weave a basket during the September 9-13, 2019 craft-skills training session.

A young woman learning to weave a basket during the September 9-13, 2019 craft-skills training session.

Young mothers enrolled in the DREAMS program in the Zambezi region of Namibia had the opportunity to learn the traditional art of basket weaving through a series of craft-skills trainings facilitated by the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) and the Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC).

The all day, weeklong trainings taught the young women the basics of basket weaving and also empowered them to create marketable items that could lead to greater economic independence. For the trainings, I-TECH and IRDNC invited a Master Weaver to teach women about the technique, the types of natural fibers and dyes, and the necessary tools used in the craft. All of the women who participated in a training made at least one basket by the end of the week.

“Basket weaving is a traditional craft in this area and it is often a source of income for families,” explains Sharon Zambwe, Program Lead for DREAMS Zambezi. “One of the best parts about this program is that it not only teaches women the skills needed for basket weaving but it also connects them to a market for their works, and with each other for ongoing support and encouragement.”

The baskets that the young women crafted were made available for purchase during an event marking the end of their training. The event was attended by representatives from the Society of Family Health; Zambezi Regional Council; and Regional Ministries of Health & Social Services, Education, Arts & Culture, and Youth and Sport. The special event provided attendees with a background of the DREAMS program and included a keynote address from the special advisor of the Zambezi Governor’s Office who presented the future vision of the DREAMS program.

A basket woven by one of the participants at the September 9-13 craft-skills training session.

A basket woven by one of the participants at the September 9-13 craft-skills training session.

I-TECH launched the DREAMS program in the Khomas region in February 2018 and expanded the program to the Zambezi region in June 2018. Since the launch, I-TECH has enrolled over 20,000 girls and young women aged 9-24 years old in the program. DREAMS is a PEPFAR-funded initiative that aims to give girls and women the tools to be Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe (DREAMS). The program not only addresses the HIV epidemic through prevention and treatment, but it also focuses on the structural drivers of the epidemic, such as gender-based violence (GBV) and poverty.

“The DREAMS program has been able to provide girls and young women with the mentoring and social support needed to help encourage them to make positive and healthy decisions in their everyday lives,” says Ellen MacLachlan, DREAMS Program Director for I-TECH. “The activities in Khomas and Zambezi have had a profound impact on the girls and young women in the program. Economic strengthening activities such as the basket weaving classes can directly empower women by giving them a way to make their own money so they are less dependent on a male partner, especially one who may put her at risk of HIV.”

Since the DREAMS program first launched in the Zambezi region, it has provided social and health services (such as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP) as well as HIV/GBV prevention education to girls and young women and in August 2019, the program expanded into the field of economic empowerment by providing craft-skills trainings. Since the beginning of the service expansion, I-TECH and IRDNC have trained 82 young mothers, aged 15-24, in the art of basket weaving.

While the craft-skills training program in Zambezi is still in its infancy, there are plans to expand the scope of the training to incorporate other crafts skills such as clay pot artistry, knitting, and needlework. In addition to expanding the scope, DREAMS Zambezi plans to partner with tourism organizations as a way for the women participating in future trainings to showcase and sell their wares.

“We have been impressed with the response from the women who have participated in the program over these past four weeks,” says Zambwe. “We can’t wait to expand this program to incorporate more skills that will benefit not only the young women and their families but the community.”

Facility-Based HIV Testing Services in Namibia

As a key component of I-TECH’s support to HIV care continuum strengthening in Namibia, I-TECH supports the Ministry of Health and Social Services in efforts to achieve the UNAIDS target of “90% of people living with HIV will have a known status.” I-TECH supports above-site HIV testing activities at region-and national-levels, as well as technical assistance and direct service delivery at the site-level across 78 facilities in 6 regions in Namibia.

I-TECH implements evidence-based HIV-testing strategies to maintain efficient programs while increasing HIV-positive yield including optimized provider-initiated testing and counseling (PITC) and index testing.

  • I-TECH’s clinical and technical teams place emphasis on offering PITC to high-risk populations including STI patients, clients attending family planning services, presumptive and confirmed TB cases, and patients attending in-patient hospital services. In addition, efforts will be made to increase testing among men through the above strategies, as well as encouraging more flexible hours for HIV testing through extended hours of operation.
  • I-TECH participates in the national-level index testing work group, helping to finalize paper tools and training materials for national deployment. At the site level, I-TECH strategic information staff ensure complete documentation of partner status of all enrolled patients, with testing offered to identified partners. I-TECH in Namibia is also working with I-TECH country offices across the network to leverage expertise in index testing training and monitoring and evaluation. I-TECH is currently supporting discussions at the national-level concerning the role of self-testing as an extension of services offered to facility-based clients, as another option for ensuring that more partners are tested.

I-TECH is currently supporting facilitation of stepped training for HIV recency testing in 5 high-volume districts in Namibia. Recency testing provides insight into the timeline of a client’s HIV infection. As Namibia approaches epidemic control, identifying, and targeting efforts and interventions to hard to reach populations most at risk for HIV acquisition will be essential.

Health and Wellness National Survey of Youth in Namibia

Since 2017, I-TECH worked closely with the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, Ministry of Health and Social Services, UNICEF, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Namibia Statistics Agency to implement a nationally representative survey on youth experiences as well as HIV incidence and prevalence. Survey results will inform policy and practice to improve the overall well-being of children and young people in Namibia and further focus HIV prevention efforts.

Survey collaborators are in the process of data analysis with a final report expected in early 2020. I-TECH will continue to support these efforts as well as continue to work to strengthen HIV prevention and promote the overall well-being of youth in Namibia.

Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-free, Mentored, and Safe women (DREAMS) in Namibia

In 2017, I-TECH began the DREAMS program in Khomas and Zambezi regions. The DREAMS program aims to reduce HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) through a core package of evidence-based interventions across health, education, and social sectors. At a safe space such as a school or community center, participants meet with a mentor who is trained to deliver a curriculum focused on the prevention of HIV and gender-based violence (GBV). Mentors help AGYW build strong social networks and empower them to make healthy and positive decisions. AGYW can also access on-site services like HIV testing, family planning, PrEP, counseling, and screening for GBV to protect against HIV infection. I-TECH has supported over 150 safe spaces since its launch and enrolled over 20,000 AGYW in the program.

I-TECH also supports programming for caregivers through the Families Matter! Program, which promotes healthy communication between parents and AGYW around HIV and GBV topics. I-TECH works closely with the Ministry of Education, Arts, and Culture; Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare; Ministry of Health and Social Services; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and other implementing partners.

Using Data to Improve Health Service Delivery in Malawi

The Kuunika Project: Data for Action was a four-year program implemented by a consortium of organizations, including the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH), that began in 2016 to improve healthcare service delivery through the effective use of data. Consortium activities aimed to improve data systems, data use, and data governance in five districts throughout Malawi. I-TECH’s main focus was to build the capacity of healthcare workers (HCWs) to access, manage and use health data in high-burden HIV/AIDS facilities and communities.

I-TECH conducted an HCW training needs assessment with support from the Ministry of Health (MOH) in 2017. Using the assessment data, I-TECH collaborated with MOH, district health teams, local university representatives, and subject matter experts to design and develop a training curriculum that was piloted in 2018.

In January 2019, I-TECH rolled out a national training comprised of seven-day, in-person workshops and complementary eLearning modules with the goal of establishing a culture of data use, a strong base of high-quality data, and improve the availability of high-quality information to decision makers with the ultimate goal of improving health outcomes. The eLearning program, Building Effective Health Information Systems, is comprised of seven modules that introduce frontline healthcare workers and managers to health information systems. The modules include:

  1. Introduction to Health Information Systems
  2. Health Information Systems: Data Management Concepts
  3. Using EMR Data for Decision Making
  4. Improving and Maintaining the Quality of EMR System Data
  5. Logic Models and System Classification
  6. Overview of System Architecture
  7. Introduction to Interoperability at the Facility Level.

An average of 150 HCWs per district were trained for an overall total of more than 800 HCWs trained across the country.

In May 2019, I-TECH launched a mentorship program designed to bridge the gap between training and practice, and to help participants apply their newly gained knowledge on the job. By the end of Phase 1, the I-TECH team had oriented over 100 district mentors to the mentorship program and tools. I-TECH’s role in the consortium concluded in August 2019 when Phase 1 of the Kuunika Project ended.

Technical Support to the National HIV Response in Malawi

I-TECH seconded staff work in collaboration with government officers and program managers, and bring technical expertise to efforts to strengthen health systems. Continue reading »