On-the-ground in Zambia

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Yesterday morning, I traveled with fellow ONE staff to several health-focused development programs in Lusaka, Zambia. (The country is gorgeous and we’ve taken incredible photos, but because of some technical issues I’ll have to wait until next week to post a few here.)

A couple of today’s highlights were visiting with the Matero Refferal Clinic – a health center in Lusaka that is heavily supported by the Center for Infectious Disease Research – and a meeting with the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative and the Zambia Minister of Health. All of the healthcare workers at the Matero Refferal Clinic were wonderful as they showed us around their extremely busy and well-organized clinic. They showed us a new wing they’re building for HIV/AIDS and general health, but they did let us know that they need more medical supplies and staff. There were two doctors at the facility who, combined, see 200 patients each day.

Of note, we learned that patients receiving AIDS treatment at the clinic also receive “nutritional portions” from the World Food Programme. Food is vital to the fight against AIDS. For people infected with HIV, proper nutrition can slow the progression of the virus to full-blown AIDS and improve the effectiveness of antiretrovirals. Unfortunately, at the Matero Refferal Clinic, the size of food portions has decreased from 45 kilograms 5 years ago to just 12 kilograms today. On top of this, many people receiving these small, individually-sized portions will also share the food with their full families.

The meeting with officials from the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative (CHAI) and the Zambia Ministry of Health was extremely informative as well. A main take-away: the government’s decision to focus its attention on children with HIV – combined with the government’s collaboration with NGOs and funding from international programs like PEPFAR – has more than doubled the number of children receiving life-saving AIDS-treatment in the country.

Throughout the day, the need for more trained healthcare workers was repeated by doctors, nurses and officials. This is a need that is echoed across Africa: Africa bears 25% of the global disease burden and has 14% of the world’s population- but just 1.3% of the world’s health care workforce. This deficit in capacity means that countries like Zambia face enormous obstacles in improving basic health care for children and scaling-up access to vital health interventions, such as HIV/AIDS treatment.

-Virginia Simmons

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