COVID-19 One Year On: HIV and TB programs adapt for the better

May 4th, 2021 | News

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As a public health specialist, COVID-19 has been a kind of out-of-body experience for me. After 20 years of trying (largely in vain) to interest my States-side friends and family in my work, explain why I decided to raise my children overseas, and live and work in places like post-war Sierra Leone and far-flung Myanmar, suddenly I find myself surrounded by people talking about PCR testing, incubation periods, and vaccine efficacy. 

While it has been unsettling at times to hear people bandying these terms about (often incorrectly!), it has also been a wonderful moment of connection, a silver lining in a year of loss, isolation, and distress. People who had never shown the faintest interest have asked me about my work on HIV, TB, and malaria, sought my advice and realized the relevance and value of public health. The whole experience got me wondering about what other adaptations that we, as public health practitioners, can identify and amplify. 

This year, JSI staff the world over have demonstrated unflagging resilience. They’ve created new ways to deliver life-saving antiretroviral treatment to nearly 500,000 people living with HIV in our care. Young people texted and used apps to access the health information they needed. Nurses mounted bicycles to visit TB patients at home, encouraging them to finish their treatment and protect themselves from COVID. 

Our teams trained brothel owners on HIV prevention over Zoom, visited clients to offer HIV testing in their homes, and coached clinicians by phone and over WhatsApp. Clients received SMS messages with new pre-exposure prophylaxis pick-up points to help them stay HIV negative.

International first responderscounselors, doctors, managers, nurses, data clerks, drivers have kept public health programs going and growing throughout this pandemic. They recognize that COVID has served as a crucible, obliging us to forge changes that could help strengthen our programs for the long term. Join us as we profile our international first responders and learn how they are changing HIV, TB, and infectious disease programs for the better.

Read the first interview How the COVID-19 Pandemic Catalyzed Person-centered HIV Care in Zambia 

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Written by Antonia Powell

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