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From Alima Twaibu’s village in Nhkotakota district, it is 10 km to the nearest Health Center or 16 km to the District Hospital. With more than 80% of the population living in rural areas, the majority of Malawians experience similar challenges to accessing care. People have to walk long distances to receive services when they are sick. And when time away from work or paying for transport competes with other basic expenses, the decision to seek preventive services like family planning and HIV testing and counseling (HTC) is even more difficult. Fortunately for her neighbors and surrounding communities, Alima is an experienced Community-Based Distribution Agent (CBDA).

A child born in Ghana today will most likely receive a full schedule of immunizations, and her chances of surviving past the age of five are far better than they were a decade ago. Today Ghana boasts a coverage rate for infant vaccination of 90 percent and hasn’t seen an infant die of measles since 2003.

Ghana has been expanding primary health care by bringing services to people’s doorsteps since the 1980s, and since the early 2000s has done so in the context of a commitment to universal health coverage. The secret to its success in child immunization has been both integration and decentralization of health services: Government funding for all health activities is provided through a "common pot." District-level managers are responsible for local budgeting and service delivery. Local staff provide comprehensive rather than specialized care.

Ghana is one of a growing number of low- and middle-income countries demonstrating that strong performance in immunization can go hand-in-hand with the aspiration of universal health coverage, access for all to appropriate health services at an affordable cost.

Mother and children, Salima, Malawi, April 2011

Malawi leads the developing world as the first to propose an approach to prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV that addresses the health of the mother. Recently my MSH colleague Erik Schouten and his colleagues in Malawi wrote a commentary in the Lancet about Malawi’s innovative, public health approach to PMTCT. Malawi calls its model “B+” because it complements the World Health Organization’s (WHO) B option, whereby a mother’s CD4 cell count, a measure of the volume of HIV circulating in her blood, determines her eligibility for lifelong antiretroviral therapy (ART).

Blog post updated Dec. 27, 2011.

Nursing Officer in Charge Nancy Thiong'o checks on a mother and her new baby

 

In 2003, after dwindling funds, low staff morale, and accusations of patient neglect had eroded community confidence in Kiriaini Mission Hospital in Kenya, the Catholic Diocese of Murang’a decided to shut it down -- leaving locals to seek treatment at the distant provincial capital of Nyeri.

Six months later five Franciscan nuns arrived from India to reopen the hospital. They hired new staff, renovated the dilapidated structures, and restored much needed services to the rural community. Eight years later the hospital is a clean, efficient, well-run facility with 70 beds, friendly staff, and multiple in-patient and out-patient services.

Deborah Nyantiok is 56 years old and lives with her grandchildren in Kaya, near the border of Uganda. She lost her husband during Sudan’s 20-year civil war and now takes care of her grandchildren. In order to pay for food and school fees, Deborah operates a small business and keeps animals to generate income. Despite her hard work, in the past Deborah found life difficult as she and her grandchildren often fell ill.

Lacking a source of clean drinking water, residents of Kaya gather drinking water from the nearby Kaya River. While the river provides vital irrigation which makes the surrounding land lush and green, unfortunately it also carries dangerous viruses and bacteria. These pathogens cause many waterborne ailments like typhoid, diarrhea, and parasitic diseases. Deborah and her grandchildren often suffered from these diseases, and while they sought medical treatment, it always seemed only a matter of time until their suffering returned.

A nurse communicates with a patient with sign language. 

In the kidney dialysis unit of Kom Ombo District Hospital in Upper Egypt, dedicated nurses prepare for the monthly treatment of a regular patient. They have assured the proper functioning of medical equipment, stocked the dialysis room with necessary supplies, and prepared staff for the dialysis process. However, the patient is missing.

In June 2011, the CSIS Global Health Policy Center asked bloggers around the world, Do you think it's possible to create a unified social movement for NCDs, akin to the movements that already exist for individual chronic diseases?  If so, why?  If not, what initiatives can we implement in the place of an effective social movement to move an NCD agenda forward? Dr. Jonathan D. Quick was one of our four finalists.

For three years, Lucy Sakala has counseled people seeking HIV tests at a District Hospital in Malawi. A year ago, she was diagnosed with uterine cancer. She has had chemotherapy and surgery, which are sometimes painful and tiring, but are extending her life.

During the counseling sessions, she sometimes tells her patients about her illness: “I tell them they should live positively. There are several conditions more serious than HIV. I tell them I have cancer. It’s difficult, but I live positively."

The day before she said this, she had journeyed seven hours to the nearest city to see her doctor. He told her he had no more chemotherapy and she must buy it in a pharmacy. The cost was roughly $180. Insurance would only pay half.  The remaining half is a month’s salary, which she didn’t have.

Frackson Machilika and Grace Bonongwe

Grace Bonongwe is a grandparent. She comes from Zovuta Village T/A Nsamala in Balaka, about 10 kilometers from the nearest health facility. Of the nine children she has given birth to, only one lives to this day. The rest have died over the years from different diseases.

Grace is no stranger to disease and affliction considering she has gone through the pain of losing eight of her children. So when her husband fell ill, she dismissed it as a normal occurrence that would eventually lead to his demise. But he did not die, instead, his illness recurred on and off for a prolonged time.

Monday at the International AIDS Society conference in Rome, an expanded session featured information on the HPTN 052 study, the Partners PrEP Study, and the Centers for Disease Control’s TDF2 study presented in a joint session titled Treatment Is Prevention: The Proof Is Here, on Monday. The results of these trials will fundamentally change the way we think about HIV prevention and treatment, although implementation of these approaches will likely prove as challenging as ever.

HPTN 052, sponsored by the HIV Prevention Trials Network, was the first randomized clinical trial to definitively indicate that an HIV-infected individual can reduce sexual transmission of HIV to an uninfected partner by beginning antiretroviral therapy sooner. The study involved 1,763 HIV-serodiscordant couples at 13 sites across Africa, Asia, and the Americas. The trial results were initially released in May 2011 on the recommendation of an independent data and safety monitoring board (DSMB) and Monday’s session was the first full presentation of the trial data.

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