Project HEART: A success story

Last week, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) celebrated the transition of Project HEART to local partners, after eight years of putting hundreds of thousands of patients on life-saving ARV treatment.

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Kevin Kouassi, Community HIV Counselor from Dimbokro, Cote d’Ivoire, and Project HEART beneficiary, counsels a young pregnant woman about prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV services. (Photo: Olivier Asselin)
Project HEART was launched in 2004 in partnership with the CDC and PEPFAR to scale up access to HIV prevention, care and treatment services in Côte d’Ivoire, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia. As of September 2011, Project HEART has enrolled more than 1 million people in HIV care programs (including 80,000 children), provided antiretroviral treatment for more than 560,000 patients, and tested and counseled more than 2.5 million pregnant women.

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Kevin Kouassi (left), Community HIV Counselor and Project HEART beneficiary from Cote d’Ivoire, speaks through a translator (right).
SEE ALSO: Sabina’s story: The promise of a generation born free of HIV
The success of Project HEART is especially remarkable given that the final stage of the project merely marks the beginning of a new one, in which local partners and organizations are responsible for HIV program management in their own countries. In just three years, EGPAF was able to build up the capacity of local governments and civil society organizations and transition the management of HIV prevention, care and treatment programs over to local partners. This was accomplished by following a three-pronged strategy:

  • Strengthening the health system through investments in infrastructure, logistics systems, human resources, and innovative and sustainable financing mechanisms;
  • Strengthening the technical and organizational capacity of existing governments, NGOs and CBOs to provide quality HIV services; and
  • Establishing local NGOs affiliations where needed, in order to serve as technical leaders around pediatric HIV and partners to support ministries of health (MOHs) for health systems strengthening and service delivery activities in host countries.

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Sabina and her husband Patrick are HIV-positive, but because of prevention of mother-to-child transmission services Sabina was able to access in Tanzania, their son Betton is HIV-free. (Photo: James Pursey for EGPAF)
As we turn our focus toward ending the AIDS epidemic, it becomes increasingly important to strengthen local health systems and capacitate them to handle the HIV/AIDS epidemic in a comprehensive and sustainable manner. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines six building blocks for health systems strengthening to help clarify the essential functions of a health system. Project HEART is a great example of putting these principles into practice and making a commitment to, and investing in, health systems strengthening. The result is something we can all celebrate: the successful transition of a large-scale HIV program to local partners and governments. Job well done!