Note from the Field: Delivering Medical Equipment -- and Hope -- in Zimbabwe
April 21, 2011
Last week in Harare, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) delivered 200 medical machines critical for HIV treatment to the government of Zimbabwe
. They’re called "Point of Care" CD4 machines, and they measure the strength of a person’s immune system.
Zimbabwe Minister of Health and Child Welfare
Dr. H. Madzorera (seated, left) demonstrates how the POC
CD4 machine works as Foundation Country Director for
Zimbabwe Agnes Mahomva (seated, center) and press panel
looks on. (Photo: EGPAF)
are a type of white blood cell that is important for fighting off infections. Testing the amount of these cells in the blood – known as a CD4 count – is crucial for people living with HIV. When their CD4 count dips below a certain level, they will need to begin antiretroviral therapy. This is particularly important for pregnant women, because HIV treatment not only protects their own health, but increases the chances the chances they’ll have an HIV-free baby.
Until recently, CD4 machines were only available in a few laboratories in urban areas of Zimbabwe. These complicated machines required a trained laboratory scientist to run the tests. Because of this, there were often long waiting periods for HIV-positive patients to get a CD4 test, which could delay their care and treatment.
To solve the problem, the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare (MoHCW) adopted the use of “Point of Care” CD4 technology. These machines produce the same results, but are much easier to use, so that any trained health care worker could run the tests in clinics throughout the country.
The new machines were made possible by a grant to EGPAF from the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation
(CIFF), awarded specifically to fight pediatric HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe
over the next five years.
The handover ceremony of the first batch of these Point of Care CD4 machines occurred at a training session for staff who serve as “District Focal Points” for Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV. They have the important role of coordinating activities and know-how in each of their districts for the elimination of pediatric HIV/AIDS.
The Honorable Dr. Madzorera speaks about the importance
of POC CD4 machines in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
The staff gathered for training about how to operate the machines, and discussions about why they are so important to ongoing work treating HIV/AIDS. They welcomed the injection of pomp and ceremony into the day when the Minister of Health and Child Welfare himself arrived to officially receive the machines from EGPAF.
The program began with opening remarks from our Country Director in Zimbabwe, Dr. Agnes Mahomva, followed by remarks from the Minister. The demonstration of the machines were made more lively when the Minister surprised us all by volunteering to have his own CD4 count performed as a part of the demonstration!
The room was brought to life with an ensuing frenzy of camera flashes and a scramble for the best view by members of the press corps, who had been invited to witness this important event.
The Minister shared many hearty jokes as he was going through the process of pricking his finger for the test, which really brought a warm family spirit to the ceremony. Many were inspired by his excitement, and seeing him participating at this level.
What was meant to be a simple, quick handover ceremony was instead a boost of morale for us all.
As one staff member said to a colleague after the Minister’s remarks, “I didn’t know our role was so important.”
Indeed it is. Each role is important for preventing new HIV infections in infants and treating children, mothers and families living with HIV.
The lessons we learn in Zimbabwe will ultimately help us eliminate pediatric HIV/AIDS – both here and throughout the rest of the world.
Caroline Zinyemba is a Communications and Advocacy Officer for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, based in Harare, Zimbabwe.