The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day is “Let Communities Lead.” This is not only a call to action, but also a recognition of the irreplaceable contribution of community members in the success of global programs and their critical role in their own health care.
We had the honor of capturing a brief interview between two of our wonderful I-TECH colleagues in Trinidad and Tobago–Alana Lum Lock Cardinez, Program Advisor, and Conrad Mitchell, Program Manager. Here, Alana asks Conrad for his perspective as both a community member and project lead, as well as about the lessons learned when communities aren’t engaged (4:15).
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 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.
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.”
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.
The Center for Stewardship in Medicine (CSiM) has joined the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) Network as a partner, operating within the University of Washington’s Department of Global Health. CSiM is a collaborative of over 80 rural hospitals across nine states in the U.S. working together on stewardship challenges through education, quality and process improvement, and mentoring.
I-TECH and CSiM will mutually benefit from collective decades of experience tackling rural health challenges – including workforce shortages, staff who wear “many hats,” and disparities in services – in the U.S. and around the world.
“CSiM is a collaborative of physicians, nurses, laboratory professionals, and pharmacists working to bridge bi-directional knowledge gaps between academic medical centers and rural health care facilities,” said John Lynch, MD, MPH, co-director of CSiM. “Like I-TECH, we value collaborative, anti-hierarchical work that honors expertise and experience at all levels of the health care system, and from all sectors.” Dr. Lynch leads the center with Chloe Bryson-Cahn, MD, and Zahra Kassamali-Escobar, PharmD.
CSiM works in antimicrobial stewardship and infection prevention, building sustainable quality improvement programs, and providing customized, long-term technical assistance to rural health facilities. The center’s main activities include leading the UW Tele-Antimicrobial Stewardship (TASP ECHO®) project, a telementoring program; coordinating Intensive Quality Improvement Cohorts; and providing resources and tools to support facilities in reaching their goals and improving the quality of healthcare.
“I-TECH and CSiM share a dedication to finding innovative and local solutions to provide ongoing education and mentoring to health care workers in resource-limited settings,” said Pamela Kohler, BSN, PhD, I-TECH co-director. “We are incredibly excited about the opportunity to learn from each other.”
Currently, CSiM has projects in Arizona, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Montana, Oregon, Utah, and Washington and is exploring opportunities to extend its model globally.
“CSiM’s inclusive, team-based approach results in work that really matters to communities in need – particularly those in underserved, hard-to-reach, rural areas,” said Ivonne Ximena “Chichi” Butler, MPH, I-TECH co-director. “This approach makes it a perfect fit within the I-TECH Network.”
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.
Voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) decreases the risk of female-to-male HIV transmission by about 60%. I-TECH Network partner the Zimbabwe Technical Assistance, Training, and Education Center for Health (Zim-TTECH) supports innovative VMMC engagement solutions that are tailored to the populations they serve.
Caravans Allow for Mobile Services and Door-to-Door Outreach
Makumbe Hospital in Goromonzi District, Zimbabwe, serves a population of more than 100,000 people, including the rapidly expanding population of surrounding townships. Zim-TTECH-led consortium ZAZIC has run the Makumbe Hospital site since October 2018 and supports the VMMC team there.
This population within the hospital’s catchment area primarily comprises informal traders selling necessities such as groceries, garden produce, or second-hand clothes, while others run at-home small businesses that manufacture furniture, iron and steel products, and other wares.
“It’s difficult for economically active young men to leave their businesses and attend to VMMC at a venue away from their premises or market,” said Lewis Masimba, VMMC Program Manager at Zim-TTECH.
In light of this challenge, the team implemented a mobile caravan, which could increase the number of men receiving circumcisions by taking services out of the medical facility and bringing them closer to the concentrated settlements of Domboshava Showground, Mungate, and Mverechena townships and nearby farm compounds.
The caravan has been in use in the district since January 2023, and it has vastly shortening the period between client engagement and service delivery. In most cases, two mobilizers at a time will engage with potential clients within the townships, while another three will conduct intensive door-to-door visits in residential areas.
Mobilization efforts include one-on-one and small group discussions at market stalls, small businesses, and drinking spots, where mobilizers will answer questions and distribute information about VMMC. Sometimes the caravan is supported by a roadshow van and dancers who disseminate VMMC information through edutainment.
“The caravans have so many advantages,” said Mr. Masimba. “Men are able to access the VMMC services near their workplaces, minimizing disruptions to their daily routines. The caravan has also brought convenience and privacy to those who did not feel comfortable being ferried in program vehicles to and from the hospital.”
Since the site started utilizing the caravan, the number of men who have received VMMC each month has increased from 159 to 233 (Fig. 1).
On the heels of this success, the ZAZIC teams will continue exploring other combination approaches involving engagement activities such as pool/snooker, soccer, and music roadshows to reach hard-to-convince men in their localities.
Peer-to-Peer Learning Takes Center Stage in Performing Arts Program for Adolescents
The performing arts have been used since time immemorial as motivators to rally communities toward common goals, to relieve stress, and as an effective teaching tool across diverse cultures and religious settings. They are a particularly effective method for engaging adolescents both in and out of schools. As teens seek independence from their parents, the influence of peers becomes increasingly important, and performing arts are a fantastic way to employ peer-to-peer learning strategies.
Harnessing these strategies, ZAZIC uses drama in several districts to complement efforts already made by VMMC teams and teachers who have previously used sporting events and lectures to communicate with students.
In a particularly successful case, Hurungwe District chose to use a drama competition to communicate VMMC and other health messages to adolescents. The goals of the competition included effective peer-to-peer learning, outreach to a large audience, and the demystification of VMMC.
Roadshows to promote the competition were held at major townships to create awareness of the event and invite members of the public to attend. Eight secondary schools enrolled in the competition, and teams of adolescents led the process of writing and directing short, 30-minute performances incorporating messages in a provided guide.
The guide emphasized use of appropriate language, the need to double-check facts; and encouragement of uptake of VMMC and related services, such as HIV testing and counseling and cervical cancer screening.
More than 1,000 people attended, including students, parents, and staff from all competing schools.
“Matawu Secondary School ultimately won the drama competition, but all of the schools did a wonderful job explaining VMMC and its benefits,” said Mr. Masimba. “Messaging also emphasized abstinence for adolescents, the importance of the HPV vaccine for girls, and details about the VMMC procedure. The level of accuracy of information was extremely high.”
Importantly, two of the performances highlighted communities that reject medical interventions and stressed the need for participation by all.
A total of 182 VMMCs were attained by adolescents aged 15 to 19 years old immediately after the competition. Those who were not ready were booked for the procedure and will be followed up with by school health masters and community mobilizers.
On May 26, the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) bids a fond farewell to its Executive Director, Pamela Collins, MD, MPH. Dr. Collins joined I-TECH in July 2020, seeing the center through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic; a new brand; continued localization of I-TECH offices to independent organizations; and a strategic shift toward an increased focus on mental health, digital health, and One Health programming.
“I am privileged to have worked with this talented and compassionate group of colleagues from around the world for the past 3 years,” said Dr. Collins. “As I entered I-TECH, I discovered a network ready manage the demands of health care delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic and one whose capabilities are aligned with contemporary public health priorities—from workforce development, emerging infectious diseases, digital health, to mental health. While I am sad to leave this community, I am extremely excited for I-TECH’s future.”
While Friday was Dr. Collins’ last day leading I-TECH, she will remain through June as a faculty member in the University of Washington (UW) Departments of Global Health and Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences. Dr. Collins will then transition to her new role as the Bloomberg Centennial Chair of the Department of Mental Health at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health—the only school of public health in the country with a department dedicated to mental health.
Dr. Collins will be succeeded in leadership at I-TECH by Ivonne Ximena “Chichi” Butler, MPH, and Pam Kohler, PhD, MPH, BSN. Ms. Butler and Dr. Kohler will serve as interim co-directors of the center, with Ms. Butler overseeing business and administration and Dr. Kohler leading science and assuming a technical advisor role for faculty and staff. The co-directors will work together to represent and pursue collaborations and partnerships within and outside the UW; engage stakeholders to invest in I-TECH; and liaise with country leadership, principal investigators, and staff on program implementation.
Dr. Kohler brings experience as co-director of the UW Center for Global Health Nursing and has been a faculty member with I-TECH for 11 years. In that time, she has led a field epidemiology training program in Tanzania and evaluated STD/HIV treatment and prevention programs and policies in Eastern and Southern Africa. Her research is focused on de-stigmatizing adolescent HIV prevention and treatment service delivery.
“I’m excited about this new leadership structure, which emphasizes and acknowledges both the role of nurses in global health and the profound administrative efforts it takes to lead an organization of this size,” said Dr. Kohler. “I look forward to getting to know our many teams and projects on a deeper level over the coming year.”
Ms. Butler’s 17 years at I-TECH have seen her in various leadership, program management, and technical roles, supporting multiple countries and a diverse project portfolio from health systems strengthening to prevention and clinical treatment programs. She was most recently Associate Center Director.
“I will miss Pamela’s insightful, thoughtful, and inclusive leadership,” said Ms. Butler. “She was the right person to lead us through a uniquely challenging time. Moving forward, I am motivated to broaden our reach beyond HIV and AIDS care and delivery and intentionally put individuals and communities at the center of the care they receive. There is much to learn, and the I-TECH network is well-positioned to do this with the expertise and care that our global teams and partners bring.”
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.”
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.”
To mark two decades of work, the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) has updated its mission, vision, and branding. This move also reflects I-TECH’s new three-year strategy, with includes the continued growth of I-TECH’s portfolio into technical areas that expand the boundaries of “global public health.”
“While supporting access to health care for communities and individuals continues to be a critical part of our mission, our new mission recognizes that individual and community health is not just about seeking care at a health facility,” says Ivonne Ximena “Chichi” Butler, MPH, Associate Center Director of I-TECH. “It is about recognizing the whole individual, their family and community, their environment, addressing obstacles to health care and wellbeing—these are all part of the broader definition of what it is to be healthy.”
Mission: I-TECH fosters healthier communities around the world through equitable partnerships in research, training and public health practice.
A key to this holistic approach is meaningful partnership, said Ms. Butler. “Our new mission puts special emphasis on equitable partnerships with the end users as well as ministries of health and local leadership priorities coming first,” she continues. “Needs and gaps are being defined by the communities, and interventions must center those communities to inform locally led development efforts for long-lasting change. That means not just local institutions, but also those seeking care.”
I-TECH’s new color scheme also aligns the organization more closely with the University of Washington. “Our move to a purple-driven colorway is an amplification of our identity as a UW center,” says Anne Fox, I-TECH’s Assistant Director of Communications. “I-TECH has always sought cross-disciplinary partnerships, and that is only increasing as we expand our scope.”
Vision: I-TECH envisions a healthy world in which all people and communities flourish.
With I-TECH’s strategic focus on advancing health equity, efforts to end the HIV epidemic, greater integration of mental health, expanding digital solutions to meet health system needs, and addressing emerging public health threats, a vision that acknowledges influences beyond the health care system is warranted, says Pamela Collins, MD, MPH, Executive Director of I-TECH and Director of the UW Consortium for Global Mental Health.
“As our community reconsidered our vision, we wanted to capture a more holistic vision of health, and ‘flourishing’ conveys this,” says Dr. Collins. “Flourishing is about not just physical health, but also emotional health and wellbeing—being engaged with life. Importantly, it requires having the right social, physical, and built environment in which to feel good and grow.”