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Putting public-private funded labs in focus on World AIDS Day

Source: Fri, 30 Nov 2012 11:17 PM
Author: Eric Goosby, Thomas Frieden, Vincent A. Forlenza
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Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

By Ambassador Eric Goosby, M.D., U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, Thomas Frieden, M.D., director, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Vincent A. Forlenza, chairman, CEO and president of Becton, Dickinson and Company. The views expressed are their own.

As we commemorate World AIDS Day, let us first pause to remember the 30 million lives prematurely cut short by this disease.

It is in their honor that we mark Dec. 1, with sadness, but also with hope. Over the last 30 years, what we know about treating this disease has grown exponentially.

As a result of outstanding advances in science, people living with HIV now have an opportunity to lead longer, more productive lives than ever before – even in resource-poor settings.

Today, according to UNAIDS, more than 8 million people in low- and middle-income countries are on antiretroviral treatment.

The United States, through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) directly supports more than 4 million people on the treatment, and is on track to meet President Barack Obama’s goal of supporting 6 million by the end of 2013.

Even so, approximately 34 million people are living with this disease worldwide. Despite greatly expanding access to care and treatment services, there is still a tremendous stress on local health systems in areas most affected by HIV/AIDS.

Sub-Saharan African countries, home to the vast majority of those living with the virus, have only three percent of the global health workforce.

So with the science in hand, how do we more effectively deliver critical care and treatment to those in need?

Partner governments play the central role in leading and investing in national responses, supported by the assets and expertise of all sectors, including civil society, the faith-based community, international and private sector partners.

One additional avenue for strengthening healthcare systems that meet the needs of all citizens is through public-private partnerships.

These partnerships are an effective way of delivering lasting improvements in workforce and infrastructure that will pay off for years to come.

The recent success of a joint effort between BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through PEPFAR to improve medical labs in sub-Saharan Africa is one example.

Launched in 2007, the BD-PEPFAR program is a comprehensive effort to strengthen health and laboratory systems in Africa.

Our combined efforts have upgraded labs, improved access to diagnostics, and trained on-the-ground personnel in Uganda, Ethiopia, Mozambique and South Africa.

Local health professionals are now equipped with the tools they need to implement lasting improvements in their national health systems.

Ethiopia, a nation of 80 million people, has only one doctor per 100,000 people. That would be equivalent to only six physicians for the entire city of Boston. In this context, it is critical that Ethiopia deploy its limited human resources as efficiently as possible.

PEPFAR, BD and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) teamed up with Ethiopia’s Ministry of Health to develop and implement state-of-the-art information technology to improve resource allocation.

Through the partnership, the ministry was able to deploy a software system which graphically displays medical data, enabling officials to quickly track and visualize disease burden and determine where the need for investments is greatest. BD and PEPFAR will continue to work in partnership with Ethiopia and other African nations.

We are proud of the impact of these collaborations.

They have decreased the turnaround time of referral samples in Uganda from three weeks to three days; linked 554 health facilities in Ethiopia with the nearest hospitals or regional reference labs capable of performing advanced diagnostic tests; and trained nearly 300 Ethiopian lab and national postal workers on safe specimen handling and transportation to create a sustainable model for specimen referral.

This success is why PEPFAR, BD and CDC recently announced Labs for Life, a new $20 million collaboration to continue strengthening healthcare and laboratory systems in the developing world, including Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Mozambique, and also expanding beyond Africa to India.

We hope that we will see many more partnerships that combine on-the-ground resources with multinational private sector expertise and funding in a way that will create lasting improvements to global health.

We call on corporations and private foundations to reach out to governments and to each other, collaborating to put in place the health infrastructure necessary to deliver the care and preventive services that will not only make people well, but also keep them well.

So on this day, let us commit to continue forging partnerships that will bring us closer to an AIDS-free generation.

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