m2m Travels Down Under
m2m was represented at the 20th International AIDS Conference, AIDS 2014, last month in Melbourne, Australia, by staff from our South Africa, Kenya, and Uganda offices. They returned home inspired and enlightened, and we want to share some of their highlights.
Milker Simba, Senior Programme Manager, m2m Kenya
Stepping Up the Pace was a fitting theme for AIDS 2014. It was exhilarating to be one of more than 14,000 delegates attending the conference, moving from one session to another. All the sessions I attended were fascinating and the following information especially stood out:
- Importance of early HIV treatment – Evidence continues to build that early treatment helps reduce further transmission of HIV, meaning more people will need to be initiated on lifelong antiretrovirals (ARVs). The question is whether this will be feasible for resource limited countries, such as mine, which is one of 21 countries with the highest burden of HIV infection.
- Finding a cure for HIV – Scientists reported that early antiretroviral treatment does not achieve a cure of HIV infection as indicated from the findings of the ‘Mississippi baby’. The child was recently found to have replicating HIV after having an undetected viral load for two years without therapy. Though disappointing, researchers said they have learnt a lot from the case, particularly that better tests are needed to detect HIV in the body.
- ‘Kick and Kill’ (waking up hidden HIV in the body) – It was reported at the conference that scientists are working on a new approach of getting rid of the HIV virus by using Romidepsin (an anti-cancer drug) in clients with undetected viral loads. The drug activates the hibernating virus from its hiding places in the body, moving it to the blood stream in large amounts where it can be killed by antiretroviral drugs. This is a step in the right direction but there is still a long way to go.
- TB breakthrough – Results from an international study about a new combination TB drug were reported to be very effective and show a cure at eight weeks and up to four months in drug resistant TB. This could reduce treatment of drug resistant TB from two years to four months. Even better news is that there is a new TB diagnostic test that takes just 20 minutes using a urine sample.
One of the most disappointing things I learned is that adolescents are falling out of the treatment cascade with HIV being the leading cause of adolescents’ deaths in Africa and second leading cause globally after accidents. Many are not being detected and those who are diagnosed still face the challenges of stigma and discrimination.
Sarah Auma, Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator, m2m Uganda
It was fantastic to be one of four delegates representing mothers2mothers at the AIDS 2014 Conference in the beautiful city of Melbourne, Australia. I think the conference was a success. Young people in particular took centre stage to advocate for more space, funding, and greater involvement in issues affecting their health. Community engagement and the need to sustain the contribution of people living with HIV (PLHIV), such as our Mentor Mothers, were also a big focus.
Considering the direction the HIV & AIDS Community is taking, there is no doubt in my mind that the Mentor Mother model will continue to be relevant, particularly in terms of PLHIV empowerment, advocacy, and increasing the uptake of services through improved linkages, adherence to treatment, and retention across the continuum of care. The conference reinforced to me the need for m2m to continuously document the successes of its model, evaluate it for improvement, and integrate it in the national health programmes to maximise its impact and ensure its sustainability.
I had the privilege of giving an oral presentation entitled Contribution of lay health providers in scaling up Option B+ interventions: a case of concerted efforts of Mentor Mothers through psychosocial support groups in East Central Uganda. The interest in the role that lay workers such as Mentor Mothers can play in eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV (e-MTCT) was very encouraging.
Many abstracts and sessions grabbed my attention, including: Innovative Methods of HIV Programme Evaluation, Living with HIV: Transitions to Adulthood, and Men Matter.