Tom and Edie Welty with a family in Cameroon.
After providing nearly 30 years of service as family/public health physicians working both with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Indian Health Service (IHS) on the Navajo and Northern Plains reservations, most couples would have contemplated a restful retirement. Then again, most couples aren't Edie and Tom Welty.
The compassionate couple decided to “retire” by combating the AIDS epidemic abroad and fulfilling their dream of working in international health in the process. Since retiring in 1997, Tom and Edie have been working with the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Board (CBCHB), a healthcare organization that serves as EGPAF's sole in-country partner for implementing PMTCT and other HIV/AIDS-related services. The husband-and-wife team assists by writing grants, purchasing essential supplies and equipment, supporting research carried out by the CBCHB, and helping the team in Cameroon get healthcare programs up and running.
When CBCHB first asked the couple to work in Cameroon, HIV/AIDS was a seemingly insurmountable problem. Realizing that their best weapon in the battle against this disease was preventing the virus, the Weltys solicited the support of EGPAF. In late 1999, at the urging of colleagues from the CDC and Professor Pius Muffih Tih, Director of Health Services at CBCHB, the Weltys applied for a grant from EGPAF to be used by CBCHB to begin a program geared specifically toward the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT).
In February 2000, EGPAF granted CBCHB start-up funds that helped establish PMTCT programs in two facilities in Cameroon. “The support provided by EGPAF, the leadership provided by Professor Tih, and the hard work of the entire team in Cameroon have enabled the CBCHB PMTCT Program to succeed beyond our expectations,” said Edie and Tom. Today, thanks to the Weltys’ tireless efforts and EGPAF’s support, CBCHB supports PMTCT services in 434 facilities, which have tested over 519,000 pregnant women for HIV.
Throughout the Weltys’ years of service, the CBCHB has expanded its AIDS Care and Prevention program to include projects in community education, tuberculosis control, orphan care, support groups, MTCT programs, and even cervical cancer prevention. In addition to their constant support of all aspects of the CBCHB AIDS Care and Prevention Program and willingness to help whenever their assistance is needed, Tom has collaborated with the CBCHB and EGPAF on a study of PMTCT effectiveness in Cameroon
. For her part, Edie has collaborated with the Cervical Health Program in Zambia to establish a trans-Africa Women’s Health Program to use digital images to screen for and treat women with cervical pre-cancer; this program also has added human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination as a component.
The work that the Weltys have contributed to CBCHB’s programs in Cameroon and the support that they have provided to EGPAF-funded PMTCT programs has helped save thousands of lives. As of this writing, the Weltys are in Cameroon once again, helping CBCHB program staff improve family planning, partner notification, and other clinical services. “Stigma, discrimination and HIV incidence have decreased, and availability of treatment has increased. HIV is no longer a death sentence. We are blessed to be a part of this effort, and will continue to support the program as long as we are able to do so,” said Edie and Tom.