It has to be one of the most boring aspects of fighting AIDS – building health systems that work.
But it’s also one of the most important.
In Zimbabwe, amid its political and economic crisis, some officials in the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare in the last two years took on a huge initiative: following up thousands of HIV-exposed infants to check on their well-being.
Even if Zimbabwe were stable and prosperous, it would be a huge task. Every year, the country has 17,500 new HIV infections in children, almost all who contract the virus through birth or breast-feeding.
Stanley Mashumba, who works in the Health Ministry, told a session at the HIV/AIDS Implementers’ Meeting today that clinics and hospitals had been following up just 10 percent of those HIV-infected children. Each clinic or hospital had a separate way of recording information about these children.
The ministry brought together health workers from around the country to educate them on forming a new national register that would include searching for the children in communities. Six months later, they brought back the workers and adjusted the follow-up forms and procedures based on the workers’ experiences.
The result: Between 40 to 50 percent of the HIV-infected children now have a record of their care and have been checked again by health workers.
“The buy-in from the health workers was unanimous,’’ he said. “We now have a simple register that can be used anywhere in the country with minimal training. We can easily adapt this also for community-based workers. Our goal is to reach 100 percent of the children.’’