HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria, three of the largest causes of disability and death in sub-Saharan Africa, are preventable and treatable. We prevent new infections through education and immunization, and build reliable health systems that can treat patients with quality care, especially in poor, rural and urban communities.Without a strong health system, a swift and effective response to public health emergencies is not possible and can have devastating results on entire communities, as witnessed by the recent outbreaks of Ebola and other infectious diseases.
Stopping the Ebola Epidemic in Guinea
In March 2014, the spread of the Ebola virus throughout West Africa was officially declared an epidemic by the World Health Organization. To date, there have been more than 28,000 cases and 11,000 deaths, making it the largest Ebola outbreak ever. A major challenge to stopping the spread of the virus faced by the Guinean government and other organizations has been resistance from communities and the absence of control strategies that worked hand-in-hand with the communities and prioritized their concerns, needs, and contribution.
Ma Souma, an Ebola surviror, speaks at a community awareness-building meeting. (Photo: Amref Health Africa)
Since late 2014, with generous support from the Paul G. Allen Ebola Program and an anonymous donor, Amref Health Africa has been working with the Guinean government and our partners to bring the number of Ebola cases to zero and ensure its complete eradication. So far, Amref Health Africa has trained over 540 members of community-based organizations in Guinea to teach their friends, families and neighbors about Ebola and what they can do themselves to stop the spread of the virus.
Together with other community members such as traditional leaders, they conduct home visits and hold meetings in weekly markets and other public gathering spaces to reach more people. Amref Health Africa is also strengthening the capability of local health workers to identify potential cases of Ebola and ensure that those patients receive the care they need. Victoriously, the WHO announced the end of the Ebola epidemic in Guinea in late December 2015, but this does not dampen the need for on-going case-finding and community support. In the long-run, Amref Health Africa is repairing trust within the communities and improving the health system so that it can serve all peoples’ health needs beyond this devastating epidemic.
Refresher Course in Essential Laboratory Services (RCELS)
Without an accurate diagnosis of medical conditions like HIV, how can someone seek proper treatment? In rural sub-Saharan Africa, this remains a major challenge in ending preventable deaths from infectious diseases and outbreaks. Most laboratories where blood samples are sent for diagnosis are underfunded, lack basic equipment and are short on fully skilled staff and management.
The RCELS is held in Nairobi, Kenya each year and was created to strengthen laboratory diagnostics by upgrading the skills of lab technologists in essential lab tests such as malaria microscopy and TB and HIV screening. The 12-week course targets lab technicians from remote and under serviced regions that don’t normally have access to affordable lab training.
Scale-up of Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Prevention Services (SCHAP)
Every year in Uganda, it is estimated that over 80,000 people are newly infected with HIV. Since 2010, we have been working to reduce the number of new HIV and other sexually transmitted infections in Uganda through the Scale-up of Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Prevention Services Project, or SCHAP. SCHAP, which is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), strengthens local health facilities' ability to provide HIV/AIDS prevention services like HIV testing and counseling, condom distribution, and male circumcision, which is the project's main method of reducing new HIV infections.
Why male circumcision? According to the World Health Organization, male circumcisions provided by trained health workers can reduce the risk of contracting HIV by 60%. This, of course does not prevent the spread of HIV alone, which is why we train health workers to provide HIV testing and counseling, and to promote safer sexual practices like the use of condoms. We also train volunteers, many of whom have been circumsized by the project themselves, to go out into their communities and promote the services offered by SCHAP to their friends, families and neighbors. These community mobilizers use methods like household visits, meetings in public markets, and informational sessions at high schools to get the community to seek male circumcision, HIV testing and counseling and other STI testing and treatment services. The project is implemented in six high-risk districts in Central Uganda: Wakiso, Mubende, Luwero, Nakaseke, Nakasongola and Mityana.
In 2016 alone, we provided over 50,000 men with circumcision. We also provided over 49,000 people with HIV Testing and Counseling services. Of these 49,000 people, 213 tested positive for HIV and were directly linked with treatment and counseling.
"I’m remarried to an HIV negative woman and we now have three healthy HIV negative children who are nine, seven and three."
Venice Simon, Post-Test Club Secretary living with HIV