This guest post was written by GHC Member, American International Health Alliance (AIHA)
In the global fight against HIV/AIDS, physicians, nurses, and community health workers are on the front lines of the response. No less important, however, are the many health workers who toil behind the scenes every day to help ensure the quality of clinical care provided to people living with HIV.
Biomedical engineers and technicians (biomeds) are one of those oft forgotten cadres. They play a crucial role in the day-to-day operations of hospitals and other clinical sites by ensuring that laboratory equipment and medical devices are in optimal working order. Their efforts underpin accurate and efficient diagnosis, treatment, and management of HIV, as well as other acute and chronic conditions.
A high-level delegation from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) got a first-hand look at the contributions biomeds make to the care and treatment of people living with HIV during a visit to health facilities in the Eastern Uganda town of Jinja, some 40 miles from the capital of Kampala.
There, the US officials learned about the impact that a capacity building project being implemented by AIHA through our HIV/AIDS Twinning Center Program is having on the local health system.
“The successes seen in Jinja are one example of a national-level program experiencing a similar ripple effect regionally across the country,” explains AIHA Program Manager Silas Goldfrank.
“Starting with non-automated laboratory equipment, AIHA is taking a step-wise approach to build the capacity of biomeds to become specialized in conducting preventive maintenance, repair, and calibration of laboratory equipment critical to the HIV clinical cascade,” Goldfrank says, noting that the end goal is training them to maintain the highly automated equipment required for viral load testing in support of the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets.
As the US President’s Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and national ministries of health shift focus to receiving SLMTA and/or ISO accreditation for their labs, having in-house biomeds with the skills necessary to work alongside laboratory technicians and conduct routine preventive maintenance and repair is essential to that process.
Through our Twinning Center Program, which is supported by the US Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), AIHA has adopted a multi-pillar approach to ensure the work being has lasting, sustainable impact in Uganda.
Though our direct partners are the Ugandan Ministry of Health’s Infrastructure Division (HID) and Central Public Health Laboratories (CPHL), AIHA is also collaborating with educational institutions and regulatory bodies to ensure what is being implemented builds on existing programs and will eventually become the national standard for laboratory equipment management and maintenance.
Some highlights of the site visit included the hospital blood bank, automated laboratory, new biomed workshop, mortuary, and operating theater, where the equipment is similar to what is required for large-scale freezers used in laboratory cold chain systems and labs when they shift to high tech VL machines, for example.
AIHA has similar in-service biomed programs in Kenya and Zambia, as well as a combined pre-service and in-service biomed program in Ethiopia, where we are seeing similar impact on the ground. In the coming year, we will be launching a new biomed project in Tanzania and hope our work in this technical area will be able expand in future funding cycles.
From AIHA’s perspective, it’s great to see PEPFAR supporting the need to continue building the capacity of this cadre and expanding from one project that launched in 2012 in Ethiopia to now to a total of five countries across sub-Saharan Africa.