June 27, 2020

MCDI HIV Case Management in Gabon as well as São Tomé and Príncipe

Photo of DHAPP team before COVID-19

“Every time someone gets tested for HIV, we are one step closer to ending the AIDS epidemic. Learning your HIV status opens the door to powerful HIV prevention and treatment options that could save your life or the life of someone you love.” Dr. Jonathan Mermin, MD, MPH, Director of the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention

The COVID-19 pandemic is equally defined by what we do know about the virus versus what we don’t know. One thing we do know, however, is an increased rate of infection and death from COVID-19 in individuals with underlying conditions including HIV/AIDS. This issue is compounded by the fact that many people – the majority of whom tend to be less financially secure and educated than others – are less likely to receive testing, leading to countless avoidable deaths.

This National HIV Testing Day - although commemorated in the U.S. today - should be reminder to all involved the front against HIV/AIDS to not divest too many resources to the front against COVID-19. Although the number of those with HIV/AIDS is declining, and testing is rising, we cannot let that trend reverse in the shadow of COVID-19.

Amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, we are continuing our work on the front against HIV/AIDS in Gabon as well as São Tomé and Príncipe (STP) through the Department of Defense HIV/AIDS Prevention Program (DHAPP).

About 1,200 people die a year from AIDS in Gabon, and about 100 die from the virus a year in STP. DHAPP Military HIV/AIDS Prevention, Care and Treatment Program for Gabon and Sao Tome is a four-year project that aims to strengthen the capacity of the Gabonese Defense and Security Forces (GDSF) and the São Tomé and Príncipe military– to fight HIV/AIDS by strengthening HIV/AIDS prevention, testing, care, and treatment services for military members, their families, and surrounding communities. Since the program’s inception, MCDI has procured condoms and Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RDTs) in those countries, conducted a needs assessment of military health structures, and trained 12 “master trainers” in HIV/AIDS prevention, testing, and counseling who then trained 32 frontline health providers.

So far this year, during the pandemic, DHAPP has conducted a HIV Prevention and Testing training for 32 frontline health workers, provided technical assistance for data collections, procured HIV Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RDTs) for Gabon as well as Sao Tome and Principe. The project has also provided training on SANTIA—the data collection software used at the national level in Gabon, as well as provided supportive supervision to military health facilities and facilitated the data collection of key President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) indicators in those facilities.

The theme of this year’s National HIV Testing Day is “Knowing.” Our best weapon in the fight against HIV is early as well as ubiquitous testing, diagnosis, and action. Luckily, HIV is no longer a “death sentence” if one knows and acts early.

Locate your nearest testing facility, or most convenient option, and sign up for an appointment/get your test now.

Matthew S. Lynch is the Assistant Communications Officer at Medical Care Development International (MCDI) Maryland, USA, office.

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