Posted by: davidjolson | 07/22/2011

Leaving Rome with a new sense of energy and urgency

This is a guest blog by Alisha Meyers, international monitoring systems manager of mothers2mothers, one of the Global Health Council members present at the Sixth IAS Conference in Rome.

ROME — The IAS Conference brings together an amazing range of individuals and prominent leaders committed to the science, policy and implementation of HIV. I am in the presence of international researchers in the field of HIV, those who have dedicated their lives to ending the epidemic. To be a part of the knowledge exchange taking place at this event is an honour but also a responsibility.

In addition to learning more from leading HIV researchers about the groundbreaking work on treatment for prevention, I have participated in sessions and read summaries of research work on posters that have prompted me to reflect on our work at mothers2mothers and all of the work that is being done to improve the global response to HIV.

We have a commitment to people living with HIV — to support them, mobilize communities and motivate governments to adopt evidence-informed policies to improve care, support and treatment to people affected and infected by HIV. I feel a sense of urgency to think creatively and be responsive to ensure adherence and improve service delivery as countries roll out adoption of the revised World Health Organization’s prevention-of-mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) guidelines and the world takes on the challenge of Countdown to Zero.

I have a particular interest in Malawi, a country that, from the start of July, has boldly chosen and started implementation of option B+ with immediate initiation of pregnant women on ART, irrespective of their CD4 count. However, our m2m site coordinators and program management staff report that there has been a testing kit shortage for the past four or more months.

Thoughts and ideas are racing through my mind about how to strengthen our efforts to reduce loss-to-follow-up of PMTCT clients through outreach activities and what we need to do to understand, measure and reduce stigma and discrimination towards people living with HIV better.

I was challenged Tuesday in my oral abstract presentation to ensure involvement of health facility staff in the review and use of data to improve PMTCT service delivery, an idea to which I have given much thought since the rollout of our quality improvement initiative and look forward to trying different approaches. After all, our work must be mutually reinforcing, NGOs must work hand in hand with government for sustainability, to strengthen service provision and, first and foremost, because we are servicing the same individuals living with HIV.

This is an exciting time in the field of HIV and, from attending the conference thus far, I have felt re-inspired and motivated to keep raising the bar. However, I hope that the scientific breakthroughs shared these past couple of days are not eclipsed by the bleak economic outlook, sure to pinch existing donor resources. How can we reach the maximum number of people, most efficiently, most effectively, with the highest level of service and the least amount of resources?

What has been reassuring about this conference is that we are a global community of people working on HIV, the community is committed, is innovating on all levels, and through the conference has demonstrated that it is though this collective effort and meeting of minds that progress continues to be made; all summed up in a quote I heard this morning by Lao Tzu: “The journey of 1000 miles begins with one step.”

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