In honor of International HIV Vaccine Day
The past year has seen the publication of two papers announcing advances in the development of the HIV vaccine by our scientific director Anne De Groot, MD. Current research investigates the role of epitopes in vaccine design, but focus has moved from the writing phase into the design phase as the team works hard to discover the best vehicle for delivery of the vaccine. GAIA vaccine researchers will be collaborating with the University of Massachusetts Medical Center investigators who have developed a new mouse model that will greatly facilitate and advance vaccine trials.
GAIA’s Expanding Mission: HPV
At the Board of Directors retreat in August 2013, GAIA’s mission of infectious disease prevention was expanded to include additional diseases that disproportionately affect citizens of countries with developing economies. In keeping with this new mission, we are advancing on our HPV vaccine project, with the goal of developing a future HIV vaccine delivery protocol.
In 2013, GAIA VF completed a Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices study (KAP) and a Willingness to Participate evaluation (WTP) to assess knowledge of human papilloma virus as well as prevalence of cervical cancer-causing strains of HPV in Mali. Our results showed that although there was limited knowledge about HPV, there were high levels of interest in the HPV vaccine (84% of adult participants wanted their children vaccinated). Importantly, this study also verified the presence of vaccine-preventable HPV strains 16 and 18, which cause 70% of cervical cancers worldwide. Building from this research, we are currently seeking funds to develop an educational campaign that will pave the way to more effective vaccine delivery. Because the HPV vaccine requires three doses, just as the future HIV vaccine will, it is essential to educate the population to achieve successful completion of the vaccine series. We are developing teaching devices that will allow women and health care providers to share visual information about the importance of screening and vaccination to prevent this disease that kills 53,000 women each year.
Traditional West African wax print cloth has long been used to promote holidays and political events, but we plan to use this fashionable fabric to illustrate the story of HPV in conjuncture with a media campaign led by influential women musicians. Our goal is to improve HPV knowledge and motivate women to access screening and vaccination for themselves and their daughters.
Textile pattern showing the HPV virus, healthy cells transforming into cancerous cells, the cervix, and our slogan, “I care for myself, I protect myself, I get vaccinated”
Prevention Program: “Chez Rosalie”
Of all our programs, “Chez Rosalie”, our Mother To Child Transmission Prevention program (MTCTP) enrolls the largest amount of HIV+ patients, having screened over 10,000 pregnant women since its establishment in 2005. The percentage of pregnant women who accepted free HIV screenings grew from 35% to 100% in five years at GAIA’s clinic. The national statistic, however, remains at 36%. As part of GAIA’s mission, not only do we provide much needed health care, but we have also completed a recent study that will help form effective future MTCTP programs. The study demonstrates the success of our program at preventing “vertical transmission” (HIV transmission from mother to infant) even in a low-cost setting. By offering free screenings to pregnant women, confidential counseling, ARV treatment for women during pregnancy and infants after birth, we are able to significantly reduce to risk of babies born to HIV+ mothers, as well as improve the health of the women themselves. This study allowed us to confirm our patients’ satisfaction with “Chez Rosalie” and reiterate that PMTCT programs act as a potent weapon in the fight against HIV.
MTCTP in numbers (2013-2014)
1940 Pregnant women in prenatal care
1930 Pregnant women tested for HIV
14 HIV+ pregnant women in care
13 Newborns in care
Youth Education and Nutrition Programs
Improving the nutritional status of our patients is an essential aspect of HIV care. Despite political upheaval in 2012, GAIA has continued to provide weekly meals to an average of 30 HIV+ patients and their families. Sharing a meal with the staff reduces stigma, and there is always a doctor present allowing patients to ask health related questions in a more relaxed setting.
After testing a Youth Education pilot program, we are now implementing this program permanently with funds from the Gilead Foundation. Our program counselor, Socrates, will train teen educators and together they will create communication tools targeting adolescents in Sikoro. Teen peer education has been proven as a successful means of HIV prevention, and we are eager to demonstrate the effectiveness of these low cost, community-run programs that reduce stigma and raise awareness among the most at-risk sector of the population.
Partners in Mali
GAIA continues to expand our global network of collaborators. Kotou Sangare completed a six-month research fellowship at URI. His work focused mainly on influenza and he contributed greatly to a paper on influenza as well as the recent paper published on HPV. Mr Sangare has returned to Bamako, where he continues to join forces with the GAIA team.
New Technology for the Clinic
Thanks to a French initiative to provide T-cell counting machines to clinics in Mali, the Hope Center Clinic now has the means to directly measure patient health status. Upon arrival of this new technology GAIA VF supported clinic renovation to provide much needed new space.
New Director for GAIA VF
Previously seen on the HPV campaign video, Eliza Squibb began collaborating with GAIA VF in 2012 to design the HPV textile pattern. After graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design, Eliza is excited to join the GAIA team.
Hope Center Clinic Achievements (2013-2014)
455 Voluntary HIV tests administered
72 HIV+ adults and children in care
830 Patients received nutritional support
A Time to Rebuild
During the political upheaval of the past two years over 350,000 Malians fled their homes. Many refugees crossed borders into neighboring countries, yet a significant part of the population remained as IDPs, internally displaced people. Now, as the government urges refugee civilians to return home, it is time for national rebuilding and reconciliation. However, the reality is that a burgeoning population will strain already limited food resources and malnutrition rates are expected to rise.
In a world where there are many ongoing conflicts, sadly Mali does not often figure on the list of countries that require immediate attention and aid. This is truly a critical moment for Mali as it returns to stability with a population greatly in need of support. It is an important time to act and renew our efforts at instilling hope and health in this country that has suffered and survived so much conflict.
Please consider making a contribution to GAIA in honor of International HIV Vaccine Day.