Starting in late 2016, Dignitas partnered with a large HIV test, treat, and care consortium called EQUIP. Funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to help achieve the UNAIDS 90-90-90 treatment targets, the consortium has been established to implement a WHO-endorsed treat-all approach for people living with HIV. Known as Test and Treat, the approach puts people on antiretroviral medication immediately after an HIV-positive diagnosis.
In Malawi, the new EQUIP grant represents a big step forward for Dignitas, allowing us to scale up our high-impact programs that improve HIV and other health services. Here are 4 ways Dignitas and EQUIP are working together to achieve the 90-90-90 goals by 2020 and advance the right to health for marginalized people and underserved communities:
1. Our work to test, treat and care for patients will scale up – big time
Working with EQUIP, the number of people we are able to test, treat and help stay on treatment will increase dramatically across 4 districts – Zomba, Mulange, Phalombe and Machinga – in Malawi’s South East Zone. While this means we’re down 2 districts from previous years, our annual operating budget has increased by almost half, allowing us to make an even bigger impact. To get the job done, we are hiring 300 new HIV Diagnostic Assistants on top of the 300 existing technical and support staff and 300 Expert Clients already working across southeastern Malawi. Between 2004 – 2016, we administered over 2.6 million HIV tests. Expect this number to grow in 2017 and beyond.
2. We will improve access to, and quality of, HIV testing and case identification for babies, teens, pregnant mothers…and more
The first “90” of the UNAIDS goals is around testing – to ensure that 90% of people know their HIV status. For Dignitas, new HIV Diagnostic Assistants mean we will be able to reach and test a larger number of people, especially those on the margins of society. Our plans over the next four years include strategies that will heal reach people that are often overlooked by heath care systems – especially adolescents, men, infants and prisoners. We will also increase work on Early Infant Diagnosis, to ensure HIV-exposed infants receive timely post-natal testing and care.
3. The “one stop shop” model: integrating HIV, TB, diabetes and other services
The second “90” of the UNAIDS goals focuses on ensuring that 90% of all people diagnosed with HIV receive sustained antiretroviral treatment. Over the next 4 years, our groundbreaking Teen Club and Maternal and Child Health programs will continue to help these vulnerable groups stay healthy. But we also have big plans to strengthen integrated care for people living with HIV, who are especially vulnerable to non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. And with the WHO predicting that non-communicable diseases will be the biggest cause of death in Africa by 2030, the time to act is now.
4. Experts, teachers and enhanced support: the resources to stay healthy
The final “90” of the UN goals is to ensure that 90% of all people on HIV treatment have an “undetectable viral load.” This means there is less HIV in a person’s body, which means less damage is done to the immune system, allowing patients to live longer, healthier lives. A big part of our strategy to help reach this goal in Malawi centers on proving more support and education to people living with HIV, both through our Expert Client model, which trains HIV-positive people to work as mentors and provide support in busy clinics, and by providing education for caregivers. We already have 300 Expert Clients supporting peers and tracking patients that are defaulting from treatment. We’re also working hard to ensure caregivers know how to keep their friends and family on treatment.
These are only a few of the highlights from our ongoing medical and research programs in Malawi. To learn more, visit us at www.dignitasinternational.org