The walk from my apartment to my office at ICAP is 12 minutes. I’m lucky to have such a short commute for NYC!
ICAP is based out of the Mailman School of Public Health, part of the Columbia University Medical Center campus in the heart of Washington Heights. On my walk to work, I pass by several Dominican bodegas, men playing dominos on the sidewalk, and ten hair salons (I’ve counted).
The week begins with a Skype call with our team members in Mozambique concerning one of the studies for which I’m a co-investigator. As is often the case due to connection issues, it takes us ten minutes to get everyone on the line but we finally make it! Since today it is just the Mozambique team and me, we have the call in Portuguese.
As background, the objective of this study is to evaluate interventions to improve linkage and retention into care among individuals who have recently been diagnosed with HIV. Not unlike many other cultures and countries, HIV is still highly stigmatized in Mozambique and very few people disclose their HIV status. To tackle the HIV epidemic, one of the biggest challenges is getting more people tested and ensuring that those who are HIV-infected are linked to care as soon as possible. By linking to care, patients can be monitored and initiated on antiretroviral treatment (ART) as soon as they are eligible. Timely ART initiation improves patients’ outcomes as well as reduces the risk of infecting other individuals by lowering patients’ viral load.
Recently, I was in Mozambique for a ten-day study monitoring visit. Traveling to Africa is always a reality check of what life really is about, especially when traveling to rural areas. We definitely do not need that much to be happy. It was my first time visiting Mozambique after having a baby and I’m seeing things differently now. After observing mothers carry their babies after they’ve worked in the field or walking for hours to get to the nearest health center, I promised myself that I would never again complain about the difficulty of having a baby in NYC.
After the Skype call with the Mozambique study team, I join an in-person meeting with NY-based colleagues to discuss quarterly progress to targets for programs we support. All ICAP-supported programs report data onto a secure, web-based database that allows us to monitor and evaluate the programs from afar. Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) happens to be one of the three pillars of Strategic Information (you may recall from my first post that I am part of the Strategic Information unit at ICAP). Stay tuned the rest of the week to learn more about the other two pillars!
In the afternoon, I attend an epidemiology seminar where we review and discuss the findings from a rapid evaluation of a new model of community care for Ebola in Sierra Leone. Back in November, when the Ebola outbreak was at its peak in Sierra Leone, ICAP was asked to conduct this rapid evaluation. ICAP is not an emergency response organization, but with our extensive experience in program evaluation, health systems strengthening and global health, we were well positioned to conduct this evaluation. I was part of the team that designed a mixed-methods evaluation and provided recommendations on the way forward. We selected an experienced and professional team to travel to Sierra Leone to conduct the rapid assessment.
Although Ebola is not at the top of US headlines as much these days, transmission still remains widespread in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. It’s critical that international aid is maintained to make sure these countries can really keep the Ebola outbreak under control.
MOVIE OF THE DAY: “Outbreak”
The movie Outbreak (1995) came out when I was still in high school, when an Ebola-like virus was something that only happened in movies. At the time, I thought it would be super cool to be part of a laboratory team that identified new diseases, or to work with CDC as part of a surveillance team to trace cases in an epidemic. Who would have imagined that, 20 years after Outbreak was released, the WHO would announce that Ebola was an actual international health emergency, not a fictitious movie.