|© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-0733/ Nesbitt|
|A nurse takes a blood sample from an infant using a method called dried blood spot testing. The sample is easy to prepare in resource-limited settings and can be stored and shipped to testing facilities without refrigeration.|
By Nelly Ingraham
NEW YORK, USA, 30 November 2009 – Too many women and children have inadequate access to essential HIV prevention, treatment and care services, according to participants in a recent UNICEF podcast. However, this could change, they said, thanks to recent innovations aimed at expanding services across the developing world.
Two of the organizations leading the way are the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, which focuses mainly on Africa, but also works in China and elsewhere, and Text to Change, a newer non-profit active mainly in Uganda.
Representatives of these two organizations participated in a podcast released today on new approaches in HIV prevention, treatment and care – part of a UNICEF series on children and AIDS that seeks to stir up debate among both the development community and the general public.
Challenges in accessing services
Distance from a health facility, poor transportation, the cost of services and language barriers are just a few of the obstacles keeping people from being tested or receiving treatment.
Dr. Laura Guay is Vice President of Research at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. She said social distance is also a barrier. Stigma and discrimination play a significant role in keeping people from seeking services.
For more than 20 years, the foundation has been working to fight paediatric HIV/AIDS. Recent initiatives include using mobile phone technology to track patients living with HIV, follow up with missed appointments and raise awareness about pediatric AIDS issues.
In October 2008, the foundation won a technology innovation award for its Global AIDS System for Evaluating and Reporting (GLASER), a web-based programme that tracks progress in HIV treatment and prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) in foundation-supported sites.
Reaching more people
Founded in 2006, Text to Change develops programmes applying mobile phone technology to HIV awareness and behaviour change, using such devices as mobile education quizzes, short message service (SMS) reminders to adhere to medication and various other mobile telephone tools.
In 2008, Text to Change sent a multiple choice HIV-awareness quiz via text message to more than 15,000 users in the Mbarara region of Uganda. In the weeks following the campaign, the region saw a 40 per cent increase in the number of people who were tested.
“If you even reach one person who has a cell phone in a very poor community and you provide that person with HIV/AIDS information, they share it with other people, so you also eventually reach the poorest of the poor” said co-founder of Text to Change Bas Hoefman.
One component in a tootlbox
Advances in early infant diagnosis have made it possible for parents living in remote areas to have their infants tested for HIV without making the long journey to a clinic. Now, technology has also enabled on-the-spot testing methods help health workers find out whether the child is infected and get the child into treatment quickly.
However, there is a concern that relying too much on technology could exclude the most vulnerable groups of people. Dr. Guay argues that technology must be part of a broader set of services aimed at reaching all parts of the population.
“Mobile technology would be one component in the toolbox of activities,” she said. “We can’t let it be the final answer.”
The podcast was released in connection with the launch by UNICEF, UNAIDS, WHO and UNFPA of Children and AIDS: Fourth Stocktaking Report, 2009. It was produced at UN Radio Studios and was moderated by Amy Costello.
Moderator Amy Costello and guests discuss innovations in HIV treatment, prevention and care.
Podcast series on Children and AIDS