UMCOR is helping end mother-to-child transmission of HIV and AIDS. Currently, 1,000 infants are infected with HIV during pregnancy, labor and delivery, and breastfeeding.
Karen A. Cheng
By Julia Kayser*
August 17, 2012—Recently, Bridget Hayes of UMCOR met with UNICEF representatives to discuss the impact of HIV and AIDS on mothers and children. What she learned was that the community-based, grassroots approach that UCMOR takes to combatting HIV and AIDS can make a global impact.
According to the World Health Organization and UNAIDS, there were about 3.4 million children under the age of 15 living with HIV and AIDS in 2010. The disease burden for children living with HIV and AIDS is greatest in sub-Saharan Africa, where girls have an increased vulnerability. Every day, 1,000 infants are infected with HIV through pregnancy, labor and delivery, and breastfeeding. These alarming facts clearly merit an international response.
“A lot of big players in the field of global health usually have a top-down approach,” says Hayes. They start national programs and hope that the benefits trickle down to villages. But in Lesotho, one UNICEF program has been changing lives from the bottom up. Local community health-care workers began giving antiretroviral medication (ARVs) to pregnant mothers in brown, unmarked envelopes. This medicine helps to combat HIV and AIDS and reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission. The unmarked envelopes are discreet enough that mothers can take the ARVs without being stigmatized.
This program has been so successful that UNICEF and its partner organizations used the idea to develop the Mother-Baby Pack. The Mother-Baby Pack is a discreet way to distribute both ARVs and antibiotics that meet World Health Organization guidelines. Each Mother-Baby Pack contains medicine for the mother to take from the time that she is 14 weeks pregnant to about six weeks after birth. At six weeks, the mother and baby return to a local clinic for regular immunizations, early infant diagnosis, and additional ARVs that can prevent transmission through breastfeeding.
Hayes says that this example “encouraged us to believe that the grants that UMCOR gives for community-based HIV and AIDS work… can potentially unveil great ideas.” UMCOR awards small grants (between $10,000 and $20,000) to grassroots projects for community-based health care. This ensures better buy-in from the local community. Community health workers build relationships and consensus in their villages. Even though community health workers may not have a great deal of formal training, Hayes reports, “at the community level, they are well respected.”
Many global health organizations are now trending towards the use of community health workers like UMCOR. UMCOR also integrates health programs with economic and educational ones—another trend among health organizations. For UMCOR, developments like UNICEF’s Mother-Baby Pack reinforce how important it is for us to listen to these driven and creative health workers. Their ideas may spark breakthroughs in global health.
Your gift to United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, UMCOR Advance #982345, supports efforts to combat HIV and AIDS.