HIV testing

{Photo credit: Rui Pires.}Photo credit: Rui Pires.

This post originally appeared on the MSH@AIDS2014 conference blog and on Crowd360.org on July 23, 2014. On August 1, 2014, Uganda's Constitutional Court annulled the anti-homesexuality law.

Since HIV was first identified in sub-Saharan Africa, Uganda has distinguished itself as a leader in developing and implementing an effective HIV response. In recent years, however, HIV incidence has been increasing in the country, and a series of restrictive, punitive measures have replaced the common sense, public-health approach that had set this beautiful country apart.

Women learning about family planning at Bikone Health Center II, Western Uganda. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

This was my first trip to Africa working with a development agency. While I had visited the African continent for personal trips previously, arriving in this context felt different. I was immediately aware of the challenges Uganda is facing. From the crumbling road infrastructure and high incidence of traffic accidents in Kampala, to the mobile phone networks that are pretty reliable while internet access is often spotty, to the prevalence of street children --- I can for the first time see what my local colleagues are up against.

I felt a bit overwhelmed in the first few days. Is there any way we can address all these challenges? Can we make a difference?

Visiting communities and health centers in Kampala, Eastern and Western Uganda -- and seeing first-hand the impact MSH is having across the country -- quickly re-inspired me.

I had the pleasure of meeting a particularly passionate and committed Clinical Officer, Rodger Rwehandika, at Bikone Health Center II in Western Uganda. As a health center II, Bikone is an outpatient facility, but the staff of the facility can also conduct outreach programs to educate and serve the community.

Rodger and his two staff facilitate health education programs at the local schools and also host youth-friendly programs on using condoms.

Yambayoh Magaji (right), a student laboratory technician, works with Garkida General Hospital's HIV Laboratory Focal Person Dahiru Sabo. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

The USAID-supported Prevention Organizational Systems AIDS Care and Treatment (ProACT) project provides HIV & AIDS services to five sites in Adamawa State, Nigeria.

The greatest challenge for ProACT Adamawa has been the fragile health system, particularly in terms of human resources for health (HRH), one of the six building blocks of the health system. The inadequate health workforce in the laboratory affects other components of the health systems, such as: 1) medicines, vaccines and technology, 2) information, 3) governance and leadership, 4) health financing, and 5) service delivery.

The situation in Adamawa was such that one or two laboratory staff members did all the work in the laboratory, including phlebotomy, chemistry, hematology, immunology, malaria and tuberculosis (TB) microscopy. On average, there was a patient/staff ratio of 40:1 on clinic days. This situation applied to all the sites with regard to health workforce in the laboratories.

Discovering MSH blog series graphicOver the next couple of months, as MSH celebrates it's 40th anniversary, reporter John Donnelly and photographer Dominic Chavez will be traveling to several countries to report on MSH’s work in the field. The stories will go into a book due out in the fall on MSH’s 40 years in global health. This blog entry is a post from the road, to give a flavor of their experiences with MSH staff.

Lucy Sakala at the Salima District Hospital in Salima, Malawi (© Dominic Chavez)

 

Aberu Hailu and her HIV-Negative son.

 

Aberu Hailu is a 31 year old, mother of four living in Hidmo, Ethiopia a rural community 8 kilometers south east of Adigodum town in Tigray. Two years ago, she visited the Adigodum Health Center to be tested for HIV, a disease she had learned about through community health education. She discovered she was HIV-positive and informed her husband that he should be tested, but he refused.

Two months later, Aberu became pregnant and found herself in despair. She thought she would pass the virus on to her baby and she feared the stigma and discrimination she knew often came with a positive HIV status.

Aberu returned to the Adigodum Health Center and the HIV/AIDS Care and Support Program (HCSP), a USAID-funded MSH-led health project, for help. Aberu learned that her baby could be protected from the virus with prevention of mother to child transmission services.

Annie Likhutu, shown right, receiving volunteer HIV counseling and testing services from Word Alive’s HTC volunteer, Charles Sapala.

Three months ago, Annie Likhutu, a mother of six, came to Migowi Health Center in Phalombe, Malawi to receive voluntary HIV counseling and testing (VCT); now, she is back at the health center and ready to be tested for a second time.“It is very important to know your status, it is no good waiting until you get sick,” she said.

Annie initially learned of the importance of testing through a radio advertisement from Word Alive Ministries International (WAMI), which is aired regularly and encourages listeners to go to health centers for VCT.

Although Annie takes pride in knowing her status and encourages others in her village to do so, her husband refuses to go for testing. This motivates Annie to continue returning to confirm her negative status.

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